One of the last two breeding male northern white rhinos has died in Kenya, leaving just six remaining in the world. Conservationists say that the species is likely to be completely wiped out.
Suni, a 34-year-old white male northern rhino, was found dead at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, 250km (155 miles) north of Nairobi, Kenya apparently from natural causes. Suni's father Suit died in 2006 - also aged 34.
"Suni was not a victim of poaching and we have yet to establish the cause of his sudden death. The Kenya Wildlife Service vets will conduct a post mortem as soon as possible," Ol Pejeta CEO Richard Vigne said on Saturday.
Suni was born in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. The zoo is the only place in the world where northern white rhinos have bred in captivity. Along with three others - Najin, Fatu and Sudan - Suni was brought to Kenya in 2009 as one of two males on a breeding program dubbed "the last chance of survival." It was hoped the 90,000-acre private Ol Pejeta conservancy would offer a more favorable climate for breeding to save the species.
"We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on OI Pejeta in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf," Vigne said.
But those hopes are now slim: "One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that the hope they would reproduce naturally has gone," the Dvur Kralove Zoo's spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova said. Sperm from the males born at Dvur Kralove has been conserved at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.
Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world and the Ol Pejeta conservancy said that the species was likely to be completely wiped out. In 1960 there were 2,000 northern white rhinos but widespread poaching reduced the population to about 15 individuals living in the wild by 1984 - all of them in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Along with the three surviving northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta, there is a pair of elderly northern white rhinos at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego in the United States, and another aged female at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic.
Black and southern white rhinos
A total of 59 rhinos were poached in Kenya last year, with their horns selling for $65,000 (50,940 euros) per kg of rhino horn - more than platinum and gold on Asian city street markets. Kenya has about 850 black and white rhinos out of approximately 25,000 in Africa.
There are thousands of southern white rhinos in sub-Saharan Africa but threats from poaching are serious: "The number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased incredibly in the past few years," Mysliveckova said. "According to some scenarios, there will be no rhinos left in the wild in Africa in 10 years or so."
jm/rc (Reuters, AFP)