A Last-Ditch Effort

Sophia Vlahakis, Editor-in-Chief, News and Sports

Sudan (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/09/life-changing-lessons-of-the-last-male-northern-white-rhino/)

The Earth has belonged to the African wildlife for far longer than it has belonged to humans, but our ruthless and ignorant actions have taken away the purely wild and free lives that these animals once lived.

The barbaric killing and capturing of wild animals has severely threatened numerous populations. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the lion population has decreased by 43% in the last 21 years and the black rhino population has decreased by nearly 98% in the last 60 years.  The WWF approximates that less than 20,000 white rhinos remain and only 415,000 African elephants remain with 20,000 being annually killed. These innocent lives are sacrificed so that poachers can sell their bones, skin and meat that are deemed valuable on the black market.

Rhinos are particularly targeted by poachers as rhino horn is in high demand selling for $65,000 per kilogram in Vietnam and China. Although it serves no proven purpose, people desire ivory because of its status of wealth and the belief that it can cure illnesses like cancer. There is clearly no scientific evidence of ivory having any medical benefit, but poaching has certainly had a horrific effect on rhino populations. In fact, the impact is so extreme that one rhino species is two lives away from being wiped out. Now, a last-ditch effort is all that is preventing the Northern White Rhinos that have peacefully roamed the Earth for eons from total extinction. 

In 2009, the four remaining Northern White Rhinos- Sudan and Suni (males), and Najin and Fatu (females)- were brought to a conservancy in African to try and keep their species alive. 5 years later, Suni unexpectedly passed away. 4 years after Suni, Sudan was put down after a long life. Just like that, there were no males left of the Northern White Rhino species. Unfortunately, neither of the females gave birth and it was found that both Najin and Fatu have reproductive problems that prevent them from carrying a pregnancy. A seemingly hopeless situation, the scientists, veterinarians, caretakers and guards who love these rhinos like their own children have refused defeat, said a prayer and are attempting a miracle.

Scientists had hoped to artificially inseminate Najin and Fatu with sperm that was retrieved from Sudan and Suni, but this failed. They now hope to save the Northern White Rhino population through in vitro fertilization. Scientists were able to retrieve eggs from Najin and Fatu, and successfully fertilized 7 with the sperm from Sudan and Suni. Three of these eggs have gone on to become embryos and the plan is to have Southern White Rhinos become surrogates. 

There is a lot of uncertainty and many questions surrounding this process. There is a high probability that the surrogacy will be unsuccessful and scientists have not even determined the optimal technique to implant the embryos. Regardless, these innocent creatures deserve society’s best attempts to somehow compensate for the pain inflicted upon them by humans. 

The fight to protect African wildlife will be a never ending one, but its fighters are committed. The University of Bath and the University of Oxford created an algorithm to create clear satellite images of endangered animals that are being tracked.  In Texas, dogs are trained and brought to reserves in Africa to search for poachers; they have directly increased the arrest rate from 5% to 50%. In Kruger National Park, the combination of dogs and pilots who patrol the area has decreased the poaching rate by 80% as of 2016. In Namibia, poaching fines have risen to $1.66 million and prison sentences are 25 years.  Many wildlife reserves are so protective and conscientious that they do not publicize the fact that they have rhinos or even discuss rhinos over the radio to steer away poachers. 

The damage done is irreversible, but with dedicated efforts and developments in technology and science, there is hope that the majestic animals who have been unlawfully and immorally targeted will prevail. Perhaps the attempt to save the Northern White Rhino species is desperate and frantic, but it is necessary. A last-ditch effort is a much better option than waking up one day to discover that a species that walked the Earth long before humans did has stopped existing. 

Najin and Fatu (https://www.voanews.com/science-health/10-more-eggs-harvested-last-2-female-northern-white-rhinos)