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The story behind the viral photo of a lonely rhinoceros

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on June 25, 2015.

(Georgina Goodwin/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

 

Do you want to know what extinction looks like? This is the last male Northern White Rhino. The Last. Nevermore pic.twitter.com/o4obIQUpaR

— Daniel Schneider (@BiologistDan) 6 November 2017

The tweet went viral on Nov. 6: a photo of a lone black rhino, resting his chin on the dusty floor of a wooden enclosure. In the photos, the caption read, “Want to know what extinction looks like? This is the last male Northern White Rhino. The Last. Nevermore.”

The photo struck a chord, although the rhinos in the is the last of its kind for years now. From the second to the last male northern white rhino(Ceratotherium simum cottoni), Angalifu, died at the Zoo of San Diego in December 2014. That left a single man, Sudan, displayed in the viral photo, who turns 44 this year and is very unlikely to produce any more offspring.

Sudan is the story may not be new, but the stark framing of the tweet by biologist and activist Daniel Schneider earned the lone man more than 44,000 retweets and 1,700 answers. Unfortunately, it will take more than awareness to save northern white rhinos from extinction. At this point, it may be a technological wonder. [Photos: The Last 5 Northern White Rhinos]

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The last of their kind

Sudan life on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, along with the only two remaining females of the species, Najin and Fatu. Sudan technically belongs to the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, but was moved to Kenya along with another man who, in 2009, in the hope that the breeding attempts in the rhinos’ native range would be more successful than trying to breed them in Europe. But the natural mating attempt produced nothing. In 2015, the vets found that Sudan’s sperm count is very low, and that both Najin and Fatu are age – and uterus-related circumstances that make carrying a pregnancy impossible, according to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

The only hope, researchers now say, is in the rhino in-vitro fertilization. Veterinarians have harvested eggs from female northern white, including some who have since died, and his collecting of sperm of men since their numbers began to dwindle. At the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, scientists are racing to figure out how to fertilize a northern white rhino egg in the lab and transplant it into the uterus of a closely related subspecies, the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum).

This is not as easy as it sounds, is the director of reproductive physiology at that institute, Barbara Durrant, told the Science in 2016. The conditions in the womb are between different species, and no one has ever developed for an IVF procedure are tailored to the rhinos.

In the worst case, scientists are considering insemination a southern white rhino with the northern white rhino sperm, to at least to save a part of the subspecies ‘ genetic diversity, if not the species itself.

Driven to the brink

The northern white rhino once lived in northwestern Uganda, southern Chad, southwestern Sudan, the eastern part of the Central African Republic, and in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. No individuals have been spotted in the wild since 2006.

Both the northern and the southern white rhino subspecies were poached to near-extinction by the late 1990s, but the southern whites made a comeback after conservationists focused on the breeding and the relocation of individuals to protected areas. As of 2010, according to the IUCN, there were approximately 20,160 southern white rhinos in the wild, especially in South Africa.

But poaching is still a problem. The practice of killing rhinos for their horns has actually been increased in recent years, supported by a black market in traditional Chinese medicine, which makes use of the horn in the mixtures referred to the health and vitality, and although the horns are just keratin, the same protein that makes human hair and nails.

Original article on Live Science.

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