Rhino species almost extinct
The world’s last male northern white rhino died last week, taking the majestic species to the brink of extinction. The 45-year-old male, called Sudan, succumbed to infection and other age-related health issues. Sudan’s daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu, are the only remaining northern white rhinos on the planet—and because they are highly inbred, neither is capable of reproducing naturally. Some 2,000 northern white rhinos roamed African grasslands in the 1960s; by 2008, poaching and habitat loss had reduced the wild population to zero. “This is a creature that didn’t fail in evolution,” reproductive biologist Thomas Hildebrandt tells The New York Times. “It’s in this situation because of us.” Sudan, Najin, Fatu, and another male, Suni, were relocated to Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009, but attempts to breed the animals before Suni’s death in 2014 proved unsuccessful. Now, in a last-ditch effort to save the northern white rhino from extinction, an international team of scientists intends to extract eggs from Najin and Fatu, fertilize them with sperm previously taken from unrelated northern white rhino males, and implant the embryos in southern white rhinos. Another plan is to use frozen cell cultures from northern white rhinos to create stem cells, which could potentially be coaxed into becoming sperm and eggs.
Getty, Ami Vitale/National Geographic Creative, Newscom ■