One of world’s last remaining northern white rhinos dies

This weekend saw the terribly sad news that Suni, one of the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos, had died.

Suni was one of four northern whites living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He was 34 years old.

Successful translocation

Suni was born at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where he was the first-ever northern white rhino to be born in captivity.

In 2009 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) played a large role in helping the successful translocation of four northern white rhinos, including Suni, from the zoo to Ol Pejeta.

Suni took his first steps on Kenyan soil in 2009. Credit: Helen Pitman/FFI
Suni took his first steps on Kenyan soil in 2009. Credit: Helen Pitman/FFI

Ol Pejeta rangers found him on the morning of October 17, 2014, dead in his boma. Suni was not a victim of poaching and the cause of his sudden death has yet to be established.

Vets from Kenya Wildlife Service have conducted a post-mortem but results are not yet available.

Suni’s father Saút died from natural causes at Dvůr Králové Zoo in 2006. He was the same age as Suni when he died.

What next for northern white rhinos?

Following Suni’s death there are now only six northern white rhinos left in the world.

Suni was one of the last two breeding males. The other, Sudan, remains at Ol Pejeta with two females, Fatu and Nijan.

There are now no known northern white rhinos remaining in the wild, and the subspecies is classified as Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

The subspecies now stands at the brink of complete extinction.

Suni, one of the world's remaining northern white rhinos, has died. Credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Suni, one of the world's last remaining northern white rhinos, has died. Credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Hope remains for the future

However, not all is lost. Hope remains for the subspecies through an innovative breeding programme, as Dr Rob Brett, Director of FFI’s Africa Programme, explains.

“Over the past year, the agreed strategy for the breeding management of the northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta has been to generate offspring, conserving genes from any of the remaining four northern white rhinos by intercrossing them with male and female southern white rhinos.”

“There are options available in the future, such as assisted reproduction. This could potentially see the generation of pure northern white rhino offspring using sperm and eggs collected from living animals, and from those that have died, including Suni. However, these methods may take time to yield results.”

“In the meantime matings between a southern bull and both northern females (including a mating observed within the last week) continue to provide the best prospects.”

“The hope remains for successful conceptions, and that we will see calves born to the remaining northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta in the next year or two.”

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