Sudan, the name of the last male northern white rhino, is suffering from an infection in his back right leg that is not responding to medical treatment. Keepers are considering euthanasia if the pain becomes unbearable, which would, in effect, make the entire species and subspecies extinct.
"It has been a struggle. We're so concerned that the male rhino is now ailing, and we might lose him. We're in a hopeless situation," said Kaddu Sebunya, president of the African Wildlife Foundation.
Sudan resides with two elderly females—Fatu and Najin—in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. They're monitored 24 hours, 7 days a week by armed guards. Rhinos have a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, and all three at the conservation range are beyond reproduction age.
It is believed that the northern white rhino once roamed the plains from Chad to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, from 1960 to 1984, their population shrank from 2,000 to just 15, according to National Geographic. The two main causes for their decline have been attributed habitat loss and poaching.
Their reduced number continued to decline. In July 2015, Nabire, a northern white rhino held at a Czech Republic zoo, died from a ruptured cyst. Months later, Nola, a northern white rhino suffering from a series of painful illnesses, was euthanized at the San Diego Zoo.
In an attempt to save the species, scientists have resorted to harvesting sex cells from the living rhinos and are attempting vitro-fertilization with southern white rhino surrogates. However, this process could take well over a decade.