The only remaining male northern white rhino in the world, 43-year-old Sudan, has joined Tinder.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya where Sudan lives has partnered with the social media app to raise money for a northern white rhino breeding campaign. Tinder users in 190 countries and in 40 languages will now be able to see Sudan’s profile, describing him as the “most eligible bachelor in the world.” If users swipe right (typically a sign of interest on the app) they will be directed to a campaign page to raise $9 million to develop reproductive technologies for the species, including in-vitro fertilization.
Sudan lives in Ol Pejeta with two female northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, both of whom have been unable to breed naturally due to several issues. Age is one—female rhinos start breeding from age six or seven; Najin is 25 and Fatu is 15. Sudan’s sperm levels are also critically low. If the IVF procedures are successful, they would allow researchers to “reintroduce a viable population of northern white rhino back into the wild which is where their true value will be realized,” Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s chief executive officer, said.
Najin, Fatu, and Sudan live under 24-hour armed guard in the conservancy, also one of the largest black rhino sanctuaries in east Africa and located in Laikipia, in Kenya’s central highlands. They lived previously in a zoo in the Czech Republic, but were transferred to Kenya in 2009 in the hopes that the climate, natural habitat, and dietary conditions would provide more favorable breeding conditions. But those hopes haven’t been realized.
Widespread poaching and civil wars have decimated Africa’s rhino population, with the northern white rhino suffering the greatest losses. By the 1960s, there were only 2,300 left—that figure dwindled to just 15 in 1984. Governments have started taking drastic measures to stop this sharp decline. These include hiring snipers in Kenya to protect the vulnerable rhino population, and relocating rhinos in South Africa to Australia to create an “insurance population” that would save them from extinction.
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As of 31 December 2010, there were an estimated 20,170 White Rhino in the wild (see Table 1 in the Supplementary Material). As of Dec 2008 there were an estimated 750 in captivity worldwide. The majority (98.8%) of White Rhino occur in just four countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya) (AfRSG data 2011).
Once widespread in the bushveld areas of southern Africa south of the Zambezi river, the Southern White Rhino was on the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century having been reduced to just one small population of approximately 20-50 animals in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. However, by the end of 2010, after years of protection and many translocations, the subspecies has grown to 20,160 wild animals. South Africa remains the stronghold for this subspecies (93.2%) conserving 18,800 individuals in 2010. Smaller reintroduced populations occur within former range states in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe; populations of free-ranging Southern White Rhino have also been established outside their historical range in Kenya, Zambia (Emslie and Brooks 1999) and more recently Uganda although Uganda is a former C. s. cottoni range state and an ~3,500 year old White Rhino subfossil indicates at one stage Kenya was also once a white rhino range state. Numbers of White Rhino under private ownership continue to increase, numbering at least 5,500 in 429+ populations by the end of 2010. The bulk of White Rhino (14,529 or 72.1%) continue to be conserved on state land. In 2007 Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya were the only other countries with over 300 wild Southern White Rhino, but following increased poaching numbers in Zimbabwe had dropped to 290 by the end of 2010. Together these three countries conserve 82.1% of the subspecies outside of South Africa.
In the only confirmed surviving wild population in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Northern White Rhino (C. s. cottoni) numbers declined rapidly from 30 in April 2003 due to an upsurge in poaching, and surveys in 2006 confirmed the presence of only four rhinos (Emslie et al. 2006). Numbers are believed to have stood at around 2,360 in 1960 (Emslie and Brooks 1999). However based largely on extensive and systematic foot surveys which failed to sight live rhino and find any signs (spoor and dung) this population is now considered probably extinct. Reports of a few possible Northern White Rhino surviving in a remote part of Southern Sudan have yet to be confirmed although surveys are planned. The last four potential breeding Northern White Rhino in captivity have been moved to a private conservancy in Kenya in the hope that a move to more wild conditions will stimulate them to breed.