Sudan: A Tribute To An Icon

The last male northern white rhino and most eligible bachelor.

By National Museums of Kenya

Sudan at Ol Pejeta by Jan StejskalNational Museums of Kenya

The last male standing and the most eligible bachelor

These are some of the affectionate epithets that were bestowed on Sudan over the years. Born in the wild in 1973, Sudan has subsequently evolved into a legend – in part due to his status as the last male member of a rhino subspecies. This is his story.

Sudan by Glyn EdmundsNational Museums of Kenya

The early years
Sudan was born in Sudan in 1973. He lived in the wild till he turned three years old. He was, along five other northern white rhinos, captured and taken to Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic.

Sudan at Ol Pejeta by Jan Stejskal.National Museums of Kenya

From Europe to Africa
Sudan lived at Dvůr Králové Zoo until December 2009 when he was relocated to Ol Pejeta Conservancy together with three other northern white rhinos – Suni (deceased), Najin and Fatu.

The move was prompted by the fact that northern white rhinos had been declared extinct in the wild in 2009. It was thought that a more natural habitat would overcome the rhinos’ reluctance to breed in captivity and thereby ensure the continued existence of this subspecies.

Sudan and Horse by Jonathan CookNational Museums of Kenya

The last male standing
The deaths of Suni and Angalifu in 2014 – two of the three remaining males – suddenly brought the impending end to this magnificent species of animal to everyone’s attention. This left Sudan in an extraordinary position - the last male of his species.

Sudan and Nabire mating in Safari Park Dvur Kralove by Tomas HajnysNational Museums of Kenya

The legacy of the white northern rhinos
All hope for the future hinged on him – but, sadly, in 2015 after a series of tests, it became clear that his days of youthful vigour were behind him. Only two calves are known to have been fathered by Sudan.

In any case, the females didn’t seem very keen on him in his old age, to the extent that they had eventually to be kept in separate paddocks. It became clear that any chance of further procreation was decreasing with every year. After all, in human years, he would today be approximately 90 years old.

Sudan by James MwendaNational Museums of Kenya

The most eligible bachelor in the world
In April 2017, Sudan made headlines as the most ‘eligible bachelor in the world’, when Tinder, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Ogilvy Africa, featured him on the dating app as part of a huge fundraising campaign. They were able to raise US$85,000, which helped enormously in the effort to support rhino IVF and rehabilitation.

Tourism CS Najib Balala and Sudan by James MwendaNational Museums of Kenya

Sudan's legacy
Despite his later inability to breed, there is no denying that he now goes down as the most prolific rhino ambassador in history. Sudan’s story has been chronicled in movies, documentaries, news feature segments and innumerable other media platforms.

Sudan and Zacharia Mutai by Benjamin SotoNational Museums of Kenya

Loved by the world
Even before Sudan made his debut on Tinder, this gentle unassuming creature was beloved by the thousands of visitors who trooped from all over the world to meet him.

Presidents, business leaders, conservationists, sports and media personalities and excited schoolchildren had a transformative experience after meeting him. He was the subject of numerous sculptures, art exhibitions, school projects and even tattoos; all of these being great tributes to the last male standing.

Sudan by Glyn EdmundsNational Museums of Kenya

Sudan's contribution to science
Sudan's distinguished but tenuous role was a catalyst for scientists to come up with technological innovations that could potentially bring back northern white rhinos from the brink of extinction. Such advances, for example IVF engineering, may hopefully be used one day in preventing the extinction of other species, breaking new ground in global conservation technology. Yet more credit for Sudan, albeit posthumously.

Sudan and Joseph Wachira by Ami VitaleNational Museums of Kenya

The passing of Sudan
On the 19th of March, 2018, Sudan died. He had been suffering from age-related health issues and from a series of infection. Once his condition worsened significantly and he was unable to stand up and evidently, suffered a great deal, the decision to euthanise him was made by his veterinary team.

Najin and Fate by Rio the Photographer / Ol PejetaNational Museums of Kenya

The last northern white rhinos
Sudan is survived by his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu – now the last two known remaining members of the northern white rhino species.

Sudan by Glyn EdmundsNational Museums of Kenya

"We at Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. He was an amazing rhino, a great ambassador for his species, and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity. One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.”
Richard Vigne, Managing Director, Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Sudan at Ol Pejeta by Jan Stejskal.National Museums of Kenya

“His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him. But we should not give up. We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species. It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.”
Jan Stejskal, Director of international projects, Safari Park Dvůr Králové

James Mwenda and SudanNational Museums of Kenya

“It was an honour to take care of Sudan, a great but gentle animal who represented so much more than being the last of his kind. His death was terrible but it inspires me every day to keep working towards a better world for wildlife.”
Joseph Wachira, who took care of Sudan and was with him in his final moment

James Mwenda and Sudan by David HambridgeNational Museums of Kenya

“Spending four and half years with Sudan as his caretaker was a free fall of emotions: he taught me resilience and a fighting spirit, he was the face of extinction and a reflection of human extremes of greed. It was a lesson and an eye opener as to why we need to protect our natural world and its resources, which is being threatened by our actions. This presence around him as he battled extinction remains my greatest inspiration to continue my advocacy for a better environment.”
James Mwenda, Rhino Caregiver and Brand Ambassador, Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Sudan by James MwendaNational Museums of Kenya

Did you know?
White rhinos are actually grey. Their horn is made of Keratin, the same stuff as our nails and hair. They are the most social of all rhino species. An adult white rhino males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds.

The sole threat to white rhinos is human greed. In 2009, the price of rhino horn was approximately $3,000 per kilogram now in some places it fetches up to $60,000.In 2014 it is known that over 1000 rhinos in Africa were killed for their horns for illegal export to the far east.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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