A geriatric semi-captive rhino died in Kenya recently. “Sudan”, a 45-year-old northern white rhino was put to sleep as vets decided, after months of ill health, that his condition had deteriorated to the point where the levels of pain and quality of life were unacceptable.
From a conservation perspective, this does not sound like a big deal. Sudan was one old rhino. He was well past breeding age. So why did his death make headlines?
Sudan was the last surviving male northern white rhinoceros, a subspecies known to scientists as Ceratotherium simum cottoni that went extinct in the wild about 20 years ago thanks to poaching. He was captured and removed from the wild in 1975, the last wild-caught northern white rhino. Sudan’s daughter Najin, and granddaughter Fatu, are now the only two left, and they are both old and incapable of reproduction even if they had a mate.
It is a strange situation. On the one hand, it matters a lot. The northern white rhino is extinct, it just doesn’t know it yet. Conservationists refer to such populations as “the living dead”.
On the other hand, does it really matter? Despite persistent misreporting in the media (and some debate among scientists) the northern white is generally recognised as “only” a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. It is survived by its relative the southern white rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, around 20,000 of which remain. The species as a whole is not currently endangered.
Read More: The Conversation