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The world's last male northern white rhino died today in Kenya. His name was Sudan. He leaves behind scientists undertaking a furious unprecedented effort to save his species from extinction. NPR's Eyder Peralta visited Sudan a few months back.
JOSEPH THAIDA: So we can go on the other side.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: As we walk through one of the open fields at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Sudan comes into view.
THAIDA: Whenever he hear people talking, he love to come close...
PERALTA: I see.
THAIDA: ...Because he knows he's going to be scratched.
PERALTA: He's too old for that now. But that's how Joseph Thaida, who has taken care of him since 2012, remembers Sudan - as a people rhino. But today the last male northern white rhino just leans his head against a tree and looks out at the brush land before him. Before, Sudan used to take pictures with tourists. And he was the centerfold for publicity stunts like getting his own Tinder profile. But in his mid-40s, there are no longer expectations.
THAIDA: So for him, he's a free man. Whenever he like to sit inside in the shade, he can sit. Whenever he like to come outside to graze the grass, he can do whatever he want to.
PERALTA: Sudan was captured back in 1975 when he was just 2 years old. He was taken to a zoo in the Czech Republic. And then as that zoo fell into financial troubles, he along with two northern white rhino females were relocated to this conservancy in Kenya in 2009. Thaida remembers watching Sudan observe the southern white rhinos in the conservancy. He learned how to sharpen his horn using a tree. He began to graze like his wild genetic cousins.
THAIDA: When they see the southern white rhino going where there is some water to wallow, they did not know - also know how to wallow.
PERALTA: So in a lot of ways, when Sudan came here, he learned to be a rhino.
PERALTA: Thaida looks at Sudan with awe. He remembers the first time he touched Sudan and thinking how he could feel the power and the majesty of the beast. And he imagined Sudan all that time in the Czech Republic trotting through the snow.
THAIDA: If Sudan can talk, he can talk a lot because for me, I never travel outside in the country. But for Sudan, he has traveled. And maybe he can tell me a lot from outside there, how it looks.
PERALTA: Northern white rhinos used to be found in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Congo, but war and the poaching that funded the fighting drove them to extinction. Dr. Steve Ngulu, the vet who was in charge of Sudan, says his passing is sad and shocking and a testament to human failure.
STEPHEN NGULU: But then as far as their propagation is concerned, we are happy that at least we collected some sperm from him and from the other males.
PERALTA: There are still two female northern white rhinos left. Both are here at Ol Pejeta, but one is sterile and the other is not physically capable of carrying a calf full-term.
NGULU: Natural reproduction cannot take place. Artificial insemination is not possible. So the only other option that we have to have a pure northern white rhino baby is to retrieve or to do something we call ovum pickup - collect eggs from the females.
PERALTA: The hope and the theory is that those eggs can one day be retrieved, fertilized using Sudan's sperm, and then have a southern white rhino carry the calf to term. But that has never been done. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Laikipia County, Kenya.
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