The death of the last northern white rhino male Sudan is the end of the line for a gracious species now facing extinction.
Two northern white females remain, but their days are numbered unless one can get pregnant from artificial insemination from Sudan’s frozen sperm.
But the lumbering African giants are not falling by the wayside of evolution because of any genetic fault or environmental factor.
The demise of thousands of northern white rhinoceros that once roamed the plains of Africa is blamed on poachers.
Poachers chased down the northern white for their horns prized as medicine in Asia and dagger handles in Yemen.
Red list of threatened species
A rhino horn can make as much as $300,000 on the black market of Vietnam, where the horn is ground into a powder and melted into hot infusions to treat fever, rheumatism and gout, even though doctors confirm the horn has no medical properties.
Other species of rhinoceros still roam the savannah and are carefully looked after in zoos around the world.
After the population shrank to fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the late 20thcentury, numbers have swollen to nearly 30,000 thanks to the efforts of conservationists.
In some ways the story of the northern white rhino is the story of thousands of threatened, near extinct species of plants, insects and animals worldwide.
A huge red list of flora and fauna in danger is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Tragedy after 50m years of evolution
The red list details 20,000 species threatened with extinction – with half labelled critically endangered or endangered.
“Sudan’s death is a tragedy,” says the Natural History Museum in London. “But to understand its real significance it is necessary to examine rhinos’ evolutionary history.
“The earliest members of the rhinoceros family appeared in the fossil record about 50 million years ago, comparatively recently in geological terms. Over time, rhinoceroses became a very diverse group, growing to huge sizes and living in a variety of environments.”
“Now we have just five living rhino species left, a poor remnant of their former diversity.”
The five surviving rhino species are the white and the black rhinos in Africa, and the greater one-horned, the Sumatran and the Javan rhinos in Asia.