Awesome photo courtesy of http://www.magunga.com/

It’s almost a year since Kenya set ablaze eleven giant pyres of tusks from more than 8000 elephants, rhino horn from almost 300 rhinos, illegal hides of wild animals and illegally logged timber. This was done at the Nairobi National Park and was a crowning moment for Kenya’s conservation efforts. Illegal poaching had reached near peak and we were endangering too much of our wildlife.

Until the anti-poaching and awareness drives intensified some time back, I didn’t give too much thought to extinction. I only thought of it as something that happens to dinosaurs and rare fish. Then I read up on the rate at which wildlife was/is getting killed. And then last week I took a trip to Ol Pejeta to visit with Sudan, the last surviving male Northern White Rhino in the universe. I came face to extinction and the reality hit me big.

Here is his story.

Sudan is a 43 year old Northern White Rhino that lives in Ol Pejeta. Since he was two years old, he spent a considerable amount of time in zoo environments in the Czech Republic. Spending too much time on concrete floors and often snowy environments have made his hind legs weaken and bend noticeably. This coupled with old age means that as much as there are two female Northern Whites Fatou and Najin in his vicinity, Sudan cannot mount them and therefore cannot reproduce.

Furthermore, even if Sudan was able to mate, the females cannot procreate due to different limiting factors. Fatou’s womb has shut down and she cannot get pregnant. Najin may get pregnant but her hind legs are also so bent and weak that she cannot support the weight of a pregnancy to term. Without the possibility of natural reproduction, we’re looking at a limited gene pool for the Northern White.

All is not lost though. There is the possibility and last resort of saving the species from the brink of extinction via In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). The ambitious plan is to harvest eggs from the two surviving females and fertilize them with Northern White sperm which is available in different zoos. The embryo would then be implanted into a Southern White as a surrogate so that even though birth is via the Southern White, the child is a pure Northern White. “Ultimately, the aim will be to reintroduce a viable population of northern white rhino back into the wild which is where their true value will be realised,” says the Richard Vigne, CEO, Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

IVF for the Northern White is no cheap affair and the conservancy is looking to raise 9 Million dollars to cover extensive research by a consortium of institutions, as well as the procedure itself which is very new to Rhinos. IVF has been carried out in humans and some domestic animals but never in rhinos.

A campaign which is meant to raise global awareness to the plight of Sudan as well as raise money is being run by Ogilvy in partnership with an unlikely ally – the dating site Tinder. Tinder users can swipe right on Sudan where they will be directed through to a link where they can donate. The fate of the Northern White depends this campaign. In the end, conservation is not just saving the species, but the human race as well.

Why all the fuss about saving this subspecies of rhinos? Is this a meaningless cause? Do they have worth? Yes. Every animal has its place in the ecosystem and it is not up to humans to cruelly take it out.

Extinction is forever. Head over to the Ol Pejeta site and help save the Northern white Rhino before it’s too late. You can also donate via Mpesa. Paybill Business No. 964550 (type the word “DONATION” in the account no. field)

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