Last male northern white rhino under guard in Kenya

British Military Support Vital In War On Poaching

A 45-year-old male was part of plan to save northern white rhino from extinction...

Last male northern white rhino under guard in Kenya

Cover picture: PA

The world's last male northern white rhino has died in captivity after suffering from old age and illness.

A statement from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said 45-year-old 'Sudan' was put to sleep after his condition "worsened significantly" and he was no longer able to stand.

Sudan was placed under 24-hour armed security whilst in the reserve and experts say that the use of military personnel and military training could be vital in ensuring other species of rhino do not suffer a similar fate. 

An expert has told Forces News that military personnel is "needed to save the rhino". 

Last male northern white rhino 'Sudan' dies
British troops have been working with park rangers to protect the rhino, who are targeted for their horn, along with other animals like elephants which are poached for their ivory tusks. (Picture: PA)

In February, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that Britain will be expanding a training scheme to help park rangers in Malawi combat ivory poachers in the south-east African nation.

"By providing training and mentoring to the park rangers, they will form a skilled network to ensure that the world's precious species are here for generations to come.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that under the guidance of British troops African parks rangers will be taught infantry skills, tracking, and other tactical techniques to improve the interception of poachers. 

The expansion will begin in May this year, with more troops set to be based in the Nkhotakota and Majete Wildlife Reserve after a successful pilot scheme in Liwonde National Park.

British soldiers teaching rangers anti-poaching tactics in Malawi.
Currently, 60 military personnel are based in Malawi but that number is set to double.

It has also been announced that British troops will be sent to Malaysia to help protect endangered animals, like tigers. 

The counter-poaching specialists, who also tutored the Black Mambas in South Africa, will show rangers how to track down poachers over great distances and long periods of time.

Commanders believe that these projects also enhance a soldiers' tracking skills, which have not been needed in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Prince of Wales' charitable body supported the project financially when it first began and Prince Charles attended a conservation summit in Malaysia where High Commissioner Vicki Treadell made the announcement.

Soldiers have been training rangers to protect animals like elephants as well as rhinos from poachers.
Soldiers have been training rangers to protect a variety of species, including elephants, from poachers.

Sudan was the last male northern white rhino and he had been part of an ambitious effort to save the sub-species using females from the less-endangered southern white rhino population as surrogate mothers.

The other two female northern white rhinos still alive are Sudan's daughter and granddaughter, which meant Sudan was unable to breed with either of the pair. 

Plans to mate the two females with southern white rhino bulls in the past has so far failed.

Northern white rhinos once roamed parts of central Africa but their population rapidly decreased during the 1970s and 1980s due to a poaching crisis, fuelled by demands for their horn in traditional Chinese medicine and in Yemen, where the horn was carved into dagger handles. 

"By providing training and mentoring to the park rangers, they will form a skilled network to ensure that the world's precious species are here for generations to come.”

Poaching numbers slowed down in the 1990s, but by the early 2000s the last wild northern white rhinos were killed - while Sudan and his relatives were in captivity.

In 2007, rhino poaching saw an increase worldwide and in a seven-year period it rose by 9000% in South Africa alone:

Rhino poaching has rapidly risen in South Africa since 2007 (statistics from Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa)
Source: Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa

In China, rhino horn is still used in traditional medicine but it is also used as an aphrodisiac in certain places of the world. In Vietnam, owning a rhino horn is seen as a statement of wealth and it is also believed to cure hangovers. 

On the black market, it is reported that the horn is worth more by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine. 

Scientific research into the horn has suggested it does not have any medicinal values and is made of keratin, which is what also makes up human hair and fingernails. 

Last northern white rhino 'Sudan' with Park Ranger
This rise in poaching has seen all five rhino species struggle. (Picture: PA)

Statistics from Save The Rhino International show the animal's fall:

  • Africa: White Rhino - population - 19,666-21,085, only 2 remaining of the northern subspecies (Wildlife Status - WWF: Near threatened)
  • Africa: Black rhino - population - 5,040-5,458, Western black subspecies declared extinct in 2011 (Wildlife status- WWF: Critically endangered)
  • Asia: Greater one-horned rhino - population - 3,500+ (Wildlife status - WWF: Vulnerable)
  • Asia: Sumatran rhino - population - 100 (Wildlife status - WWF: Critically endangered)
  • Asia: Javan rhino - population - 61-63 (Wildlife status - WWF: Critically endangered) 
Last male northern white rhino 'Sudan' dies in Kenya
Picture: PA

Speaking after the death of Sudan, Save the Rhino International's Kate Ford said military training support is part of a range of expertise that are needed to save the species:

"Rangers on the ground are vital to rhino conservation. Emphasis should always be on supporting ranger capacity.

"There is not a silver bullet to rhino conservation. 

"Everyone is looking for 'the' game-changer but to save the rhino, is a multi-stranded and complex human endeavour taking into consideration: logistics, technology, politics, behaviour, economics, and research.

"Ex-military training support is part of a range of expertise that are needed to save the rhino.

Anti-poaching training in Malawi

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy said they hope modern reproductive techniques will help them reintroduce northern white rhinos, using Sudan's genetics which have been scientifically stored.

But Mrs Ford says despite the advances in technology, it may be too late to really save this subspecies.

"Sudan’s death is totally devastating.

"Even if much-hyped innovations like rhino IVF are perfected in the future, it will likely come too late to save this sub-species.

"With only two, inter-related individuals remaining, all of which are too old to mate or have reproductive problems preventing them from conceiving naturally, the death of the last Northern white rhino is only a matter of time."