It’s the afternoon of the 19th day of March 2018. Sudan, the last Northern Male White Rhino had just died. Mr. Peter Ekale, a forty-five year-old head ranger at Olpejeta Conservancy sat quietly on a stack of hay.
In hindsight, Olpejeta Conservancy is home to a hundred and ten other rhinos, but the death of one animal that was so dear to his heart, a rhino whose caretaking duties he had overseen for over ten years day and night, was an emotion too high to contain, he wept.
“It was painful, it is like the equivalent of losing your firstborn child,” said Peter. A little light in his soul was dimmed.
The father of six said that his bond with Sudan was so close, that even on the night-shift, during the many cold Laikipia nights, the rhino’s bosom became his favorite pillow.
“I take care of these rhinos like my own babies, but you have to understand that it is always a risky affair considering that these are still wild animals, I am always cautious”.
He recalled a few years back, during his daily caretaking duties when he was attacked by an angry rhino. Luckily he escaped with minor injuries and he has scars to prove it.
“It felt different with Sudan, I was always at ease around him, he was like my best friend and all the rangers here loved him,” Mr. Peter told this writer.
“I used to bring my kids to the conservancy every 26th of December to see various animals in the conservancy, but it is Sudan that they really loved”
He (Sudan) may have been the last male rhino of its species in the world, but he left a daughter ‘Najin’ and granddaughter ‘Fatu’, the two remaining northern white rhino females, representing a species on the brink of extinction.
It is no wonder that Najin and Fatu are now Peter’s two favorite animals in the entire conservancy. “I love them,” he says joyfully.
The life of Sudan and the efforts by Peter’s team to protect the only surviving northern white rhinos in the wild are now contained in a movie documentary dubbed Kifaru, which is set to premiere in Kenya on October 24th at Trademark Hotel.
‘Saving the last Rhinos’
But it is the scientist and conservation die-hards who have been toiling hard to restore hope for these species in the middle of a looming extinction.
On 23rd of August, Olpejeta Conservancy and its partners announced that it had inched closer to the revival of the northern white rhino species through a genetic engineering technology known as IVF (In vitro fertilization)
The tricky procedure which was the first of its kind performed on a northern white involved collecting eggs from Najin and Fatu, the two remaining females. The eggs will then be flown to Italy where they will be artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from a Northern White Bull.
The resulting embryo will then be transferred to a Southern White surrogate mother where gestation is expected to take place. Normally the gestation period of rhino is usually sixty months.
“It’s difficult to estimate when we can expect a successful embryo transplant. We don’t expect a calf at least for the next three years but we are confident the procedure will be successful” said Jan Stejskal, a representative of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and wildlife the organization that is working with Olpejeta to revive the species.
If the plan works, it will not only represent a significant milestone for the world of science and biotechnology, but also a wealth of happiness and a layer of hope for Peter and his team.