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Kenya Ailing Rhino

The last male northern white rhino has died. Will his sperm be able to save the subspecies?

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- The world's last male northern white rhino, named Sudan, was euthanized on Monday after his keepers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya noticed his condition had "worsened significantly."

The 45-year-old rhino was being treated for "age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds," according to a release from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

In his last 24 hours, the conservancy said Sudan's condition worsened to the point where he was no longer able to stand.

“We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death," Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO, said in a release.
"He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity."

Sudan escaped the extinction of his subspecies in the 1970s and was moved from the wild to the Dvůr Králové Zoo, which is located in the Czech Republic. In 2009, Sudan, another male northern white rhino and two females were moved from the Czech zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

The hope was that the conservancy's habitat, which is similar to this subspecies' native habitat, would provide a breeding ground that could save them. Although keepers did see the rhinos mating, the conservancy said there were no successful pregnancies.

Just last year, Sudan gained celebrity status when the conservancy created a profile for the aging rhino on the dating app, Tinder. He was listed as "The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World" in an effort to raise money to help save the subspecies.

Swiping right could help prevent this subspecies of rhino from going extinct

Now, just two female northern white rhinos remain: Sudan's daughter Najin and her daughter Fatu.

"The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females," the conservancy said in a release.

The Associated Press reported that semen from several dead northern white rhinos is stored in various location across the globe.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo are now working together to find a way to safely remove egg cells from the two remaining females. If that is done successfully, conservationists will be able to fertilize the eggs with semen previously collected from male northern white rhinos and insert those embryos into female southern white rhinos.

"We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species," Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at Dvůr Králové Zoo, said in a release. "It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring."

Now, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo are hoping to raise enough money to develop this IVF method and implement it before it's too late. They estimate the work could cost as much as $9 million.

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