Death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, sends a stark message

Sudan, the last remaining male Northern white rhino, who had been suffering from age-related ailments, has been put down at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya, leaving two female Northern whites at the sanctuary as the only living reminders of a rhino subspecies that was once numerous and widespread across East and Central Africa.

“When are we going to understand that we cannot continue to use and abuse wild species without serious consequences?” said Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation. “The pressures on wild species from habitat loss, persecution, trade, hunting, trophy hunting, resources extraction, land conversion, agriculture and more, combined with the relentless growth in the human population, predicted to rise from just over 7 billion today to 11 billion by 2100,beg the question: will there be room for non-human life on earth after we have finished?”

The demise of the Northern white rhino, one of two subspecies of white rhinos, the other being the more numerous Southern variety, has been inevitable for years. Neither Sudan nor his two female companions were able to breed. Nevertheless, Sudan’s death is a poignant reminder that, without concerted action, we could see these and other unique animals disappear altogether during our lifetimes. Many other species that are in serious decline as a result of our own species’ seemingly unquenchable thirst for wildlife habitats, wild animals, and parts and products derived from them.

Populations of northern white rhinos were devastated by poaching for their horns, particularly through the 1970s and 1980s, and although numbers recovered a little during the 1990s, a more recent resurgence of the poaching crisis, together with ineffective wildlife law enforcement in their home range, left them hanging by a threat.

Northern whites aren’t the only rhinos to have all but disappeared in recent years. The Western subspecies of black rhino in Africa was declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2011, and Vietnam’s last Javan rhino was shot by a poacher in 2010.

At the turn of the last century there were probably half-a-million rhinos across Africa and Asia. Now, just 29,000 animals belonging to five species cling on. Three of these remaining species are classified as Critically Endangered. More than 1,000 continue to be killed by poachers each year in South Africa alone, to supply horns to criminal gangs that traffic them into lucrative illegal markets in the Far East, where they are ground down to be used in traditional medicines and tonics, sold as investments or high-end gifts, or used as recreational drugs..

Sudan’s death marks the effective extinction of his subspecies. If we’re to avoid condemning the world’s wildlife and its remaining rhinos to the same fate, far more needs to be done to protect them, enhance and extend wildlife habitats, specifically choke off demand for rhino horn, and close down illegal wildlife markets.

Image (C) G. Logan


Sign up to get the latest Born Free news about our work and how you can help, delivered straight to your inbox.