Anna Sheffer
March 20, 2018 12:38 pm
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The animal kingdom was met with devastating news today, March 20th, when the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, passed away in captivity. Conservationists had been fighting to keep this species alive, even signing Sudan up for Tinder in 2017 in the hopes that his profile could generate awareness. But what happened to make this species so endangered?

The 45-year-old Sudan was put down after he’d fallen ill from a leg infection. Sudan was captured in the country of Sudan in 1975 and had been living in captivity ever since. He is survived by two female northern white rhinos.

So why are northern white rhinos so close to dying out?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, white rhinos are the only variety of rhinoceros that aren’t endangered. So why is Sudan’s passing such a big deal? The WWF states that southern white rhinos and their northern counterparts are actually genetically distinct subspecies — meaning they can’t breed with each other. And while about 20,000 southern white rhinos are alive today, poachers have hunted the northern subspecies to extinction in the wild, leaving only the three (now two) captive rhinos alive.

And poaching continues to be a problem. Horns from all types of rhino sell for high prices in certain countries, including Vietnam, and more than 1,000 of these animals were killed illegally in South Africa in 2017.

As for the northern white rhinos, neither of the two remaining females can bear offspring of their own. Conservationists’ last hope to save this northern variety is by combining eggs from one of the females and leftover sperm from Sudan or another male and then implanting the embryo into a southern white rhino. The procedure sounds simple, but scientists have never taken eggs from rhinos before, and if they fail, these animals will become extinct.

Unfortunately, northern white rhinos are not the only creatures on the brink of extinction. The difficult truth is that humans have caused many kinds of animals to become endangered. But we have to learn from Sudan’s death and the endangerment of other species. We only have one planet, and preserving it and the wildlife that call it home are crucial.