by Abigail Mullen
On March 19, the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died. He passed away at age 45 due to infections and age-related health problem at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Now his daughter, Najon, and granddaughter, Fatu, are the only remaining northern white rhinos.These rhinos are a subspecies of the southern white rhinos, and they lived on the grasslands of east and central Africa. The northern rhinos have hairier ears, different dental structures, and are smaller than the southern rhinos. The main reasons for the decline in the population of the northern white rhinos are war, habitat loss and poaching. By 2008, no northern white rhinos were living in the wild.
According to the New York Times, a team of scientists from around the world have been trying to help the species by using new stem cell technology and other reproductive techniques. The sperm of several northern white rhino males, unrelated to Najon and Fatu, has been saved. Unfortunately, neither rhino is able to carry a pregnancy to term. Scientists would like to take eggs from the female rhinos, inseminate them, and implant them in a surrogate southern white rhino.
In vitro fertilization has never been successful with a rhino, but it is often done with humans and livestock. However, even if in vitro fertilization were to work, having only two females extremely lowers genetic diversity. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo plan to use cell cultures from northern white rhinos to create stem cell, which could be used to make eggs and sperm.