“His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him,” said Jan Stejskal, an official at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan had lived until 2009. “But we should not give up,” he added in quotes carried by AFP news agency.
“We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilised for conservation of critically endangered species. It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.”
Rhinoceroses – of which there are five species – are the second-largest land mammal after elephants. The white rhinoceros consists of two sub-species: the southern white rhino and the much rarer and critically endangered northern white rhino.
Sudan, who was the equivalent of 90 in human years, was the last surviving male of the rarer variety after the natural death of a second male in late 2014.
The subspecies’ population in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad was largely wiped out during the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Poaching was fuelled by demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen.
The move won him fans across the world – fans who will now be mourning his death and the northern white rhino’s proximity to extinction.
Sudan’s genetic material was collected on Monday, conservationists said, to support future attempts to preserve the subspecies.
The plan is to use stored sperm from several northern white rhino males, and eggs from the remaining younger females, and implant the embryo in a surrogate southern white rhino.
Rhino IVF is a radically new procedure and could cost as much as $10m (£7.1m). It still gives conservationists hope that Najin and Fatu will be able to have their own calves one day.
How is the world reacting?
News of the loss of the world’s last male northern white rhino has travelled far.
People including Kenyan politicians and YouTubers have posted pictures of themselves meeting Sudan on the reserve where he lived out his remaining years.
Indian cricketer Rohit Sharma and former WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan shared their sadness with the hashtag #wedidthis.
Many, including a British teenaged conservation activist, blame humans for the subspecies’ imminent extinction and are calling for attention to be refocused on saving other rhino species before it is too late.