A GoFundMe campaign is ongoing to fund the cost of providing 24-hour armed guard for the world’s last male northern white rhino. The GoFundMe campaign launched last month has raised about $55,000, about half of the target.
A group of armed rangers is guarding Sudan — the last surviving male northern white rhino — day and night at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, to prevent him from being killed by poachers.
Sudan became the last hope of his species after another male, Suni, died in October last year.
Sudan, who has also been fitted with radio transmitters to help rangers keep a close watch on him, has two female northern white rhinos with him.
Four rhinos — Sudan, one other male called Suni, and two females — were brought to the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya, which specializes in breeding rhinos, from a zoo in Czech Republic in December 2009. They were brought to Kenya because breeders thought they have a better chance of breeding successfully in climate natural to the species.
But unfortunately, attempts to breed them have so far failed. The other male, Suni, died in October, 2014 at the age of 34, leaving 43-year-old Sudan (Male rhinos could live into their 50s) to fulfill the mission of preserving the species by producing new northern white rhino calves.
Suni’s death left only five northern white rhinos alive in the world, three at the conservancy and two other females in captivity.
Northern white rhinos once roamed the African plains from southern Chad to Sudan. There were still about 2,000 individuals in the 1960s, but by 1984, the numbers had dwindled to 15, World Wide Fund for Nature reports.
Conservation efforts have yielded only very limited success.
As part of efforts to keep Sudan safe, rangers took the extreme safety precaution of removing his horn. At a time that prices of rhino horns are constantly rising, desperate poachers will do anything to obtain the horns of a mature white rhino male.
According to Elodie Sampere, a ranger at the Ol Pejeta conservancy, “The only reason his horn has been cut off is to deter poachers. If the rhino has no horn, he is of no interest to them. This is purely to keep him safe.”
Yet rangers fear that the move might not be sufficient to stop poachers who could simply kill the rhino at sight before they are able to confirm that he has no horns.
Rhino horns are very highly priced in Asian markets due to persisting ancient folk beliefs that the powdered material has miraculous medicinal properties to cure a variety of human ailments.
The price of rhino horns has risen from $800 per kilo in the 1990s to between $60,000 to about $70,000 per kilo, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The international trade in rhino horn led to profit hungry poachers wiping out northern white rhinos.
Simor Irungu, who helps to guard Sudan, said that guarding the male rhino is dangerous job and that he and other rangers guarding him are risking their lives.
But he said the team has been able to fend off a number of attempts on Sudan.
“With the rising demand for rhino horn and ivory, we face many poaching attempts and while we manage to counter a large number of these, we often risk our lives in the line of duty.”
Meanwhile, Ol Pejeta is hoping to raise money to fund the cost of providing a 24-hour guard for Sudan. According to the Daily Mail, the conservancy says the guards cost more than $100,000 every six months. Unfortunately, revenue from tourism had taken a hit due to instability in the country and the recent Ebola scare which affected tourism, although there was never any case of Ebola in Kenya.
The Ebola epidemic raged thousands of miles away in West Africa.
The convervancy is hoping to raise money to pay for the guards through crowd funding and has set up a GoFundMe page.
“Keeping the ranger team safe is expensive. They are given world-class training, and are kitted out with the latest in equipment and support, from night vision goggles to GPS tracking, to a team of tracking and support dogs…
“Keeping the team funded and equipped is an ongoing challenge. We are aiming to raise enough to safeguard the wages for the forty strong team for the next six months.
“This is £75,000. Any which way, every single pound contributed will help secure the rangers, that secure the rhino, for us and for future generations.”
Wildlife lovers who wish to donate to the effort may do so here.
[Image: Ol Pejeta conservancy]