Remains of world’s last male northern white rhino to return from Czechia to Kenya 

The remains of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, which had been on display at the National Museum in Prague, are due to be shipped to Kenya this week. The taxidermy, created by the National Museum’s conservationists, will be displayed in Kenya as a symbol of the fight for nature protection. I discussed the fate of the famous animal with conservationist Jan Stejskal from Dvůr Králové Zoo, which has been spearheading international efforts to save the breed from extinction: 

Přemysl Rabas and Michal Lukeš | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

“The animal was born in south Sudan, probably in 1973. We don’t know the exact date, because he was caught in the wild. He was caught in early 1975 by a team led by former Dvůr Králové director Josef Vágner. That same year, Sudan and five other northern white rhinos arrived in Dvůr Králové and my colleagues started the breeding programme.

“Sudan sired two females in our zoo. One of them was Nabire, who lived all her life in our zoo. The other one, Najin, is now in Ol Pejeta in Kenya and she is one of the last two females of the Northern White Rhino known to the world.”

Sudan was eventually sent to Kenya, to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he died in 2018. How did his remains end up in the National Museum?

Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

“Sudan went to Kenya together with another male and two females, Najin and Fatu, in a hope that in the more natural surroundings they would start to breed again, but unfortunately this didn’t happen.

“However, Sudan lived a very long life he was perhaps 45 years when he died and already before his death he became a symbol of hope that we could resurrect and save species even on the brink of extinction.

“Shortly after his death we decided with our colleagues from Dvůr Králové to save his skin and bones and we brought him back to the Czech Republic. From autumn 2021 his taxidermy was on display in Prague’s National Museum, but there has always been an agreement with the Kenyan side that the taxidermy would return to Kenya and displayed in some important public space.”

Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

As you said, Sudan failed to breed during his last years in Kenya. The good news is that veterinarians had been collecting and freezing away samples of his sperm. Does that mean there is still a chance Sudan will have off spring in the future?

Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

“There is still a chance that he will have offspring in the future. We have to remember that even Najin is his daughter and Fatu his granddaughter.

“There is currently a new bio-rescue project and the only way for the northern white rhinos to survive is through this advanced technique of reproduction.

Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

“We certainly hope that we will be able to involve even Sudan’s genetic material in this type of reproduction in the future. We had not done it yet, because he is related to the females. That’s why the embryos produced within the bio-rescue project were made from the semen of a different male.

“However, we also work in laboratories on producing embryos from stem cells and we definitely hope that in this case we will be able to use Sudan’s genetic material.”