The last living male northern white rhinoceros on earth, named Sudan, is under the round-the-clock armed guard protection at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya, according to CNN. The animal is considered elderly, has a low sperm count, and may not be able to mount the two females with whom he shares a habitat. Nevertheless, conservationists are still hoping that the 42-year-old rhino will be able to conceive before he dies.
“There has been recorded mating between different pairs over the last few years, but not conceptions,” George Paul, the deputy veterinarian at the conservancy, told CNN. “Based on a recent health examination conducted, both animals have a regular estrus cycle, but no conception has been recorded.”
Paul said that the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is currently holding a fundraiser to train Sudan’s guards to be better prepared against poachers, who for years have sought out northern white rhinos for their horns. Rhino horns have been prescribed as an aphrodisiac or a cure for various fevers and convulsions in some Asian countries, despite objections from the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine.
The options for Sudan’s caretakers are limited. It would be possible for him to mate with a southern white rhino, a species that is not endangered, though the offspring would no longer contain 100 percent northern white rhino genetic material. Conservancy directors have also discussed methods of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer—methods that have been used in the past with other critically endangered species.
“Realistically, we are looking at these animals dying in the next decade or so. But hopefully, using artificial methods of reproduction, we might be able to bring them back in the future,” Paul told CNN. “This might mean that it will happen when the current animals are already deceased, but it could happen.”