There are only three northern white rhinos left in the world, and a worsening infection could be getting the best of one of them.
Dehorned to deter poachers, a tame northern white rhino, one of only seven of the subspecies known to survive, grazes under the watch of rangers from Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy. By BRENT STIRTON
In spring of 2017, guardians of the world's last male northern white rhino joined a dating app on his behalf to raise awareness about conservation efforts. But now, the health of this rare rhino is failing, and the subspecies might be one step closer to extinction.
Sudan, a 45-year-old male northern white rhino, is suffering from a nasty infection on his back right leg, which festered underneath an age-related ailment he developed last year. This new infection is not responding to treatment, and his keepers are considering euthanasia if the pain gets to be too much for him. (Read: "To Rescue or Not, That is the Question With Distressed Animals")
"It has been a struggle," says Kaddu Sebunya, president of the African Wildlife Foundation. "We're so concerned that the male rhino is now ailing, and we might lose him. We're in a hopeless situation."
Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino, grazes at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park, Kenya May 3, 2017. PHOTOGRAPH BY BAZ RATNER, REUTERS
Rhinos have a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, and all these individuals are past reproduction age.
The northern white rhinoceros subspecies was once thought to have stretched from Chad to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but their numbers have declined. A population of more than 2,000 in 1960 shrank down to just 15 in 1984, and there are only a tentative three alive today. (Read: "Why African Rhinos Are Facing a Crisis")
Habitat loss and poaching have threatened rhino populations in Africa and Asia for decades. Their keratin horns are believed to work as a hangover cure and are sometimes included as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicines. However, many scientists say these cures are ineffective. (Read: "More than 1,000 Rhinos Killed by Poachers in South Africa Last Year")
A greater one-horned rhinoceros and her calf run along a path in Kaziranga National Park, India, in 2008.
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE WINTER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Sudan interacts with a southern white rhino.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AMI VITALE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Some rhinos, like this one in South Africa, survive poaching attacks. Poachers target the horns, which are made entirely of keratin, the same substance in fingernails and hair.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRENT STIRTON, REPORTAGE FOR WWF
An anesthetized white rhino that had its horns cut off to deter poachers rests in Klerksdorp, South Africa.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRENT STIRTON, REPORTAGE FOR WWF/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC