The story of 43-year-old Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on the planet, who has become an unwitting celebrity and the focus of a desperate battle to save his sub-species.
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This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
Sudan, come on, boy.
This is the remarkable story of an animal who survived
the destruction of the rest of his species.
He's travelled the globe from the open savannas of Africa, to a closed
world behind the Iron Curtain.
Now as the very last male of his kind,
he's become an unwitting celebrity in an astonishing modern-day fable.
The whole story is not only about animals, but it's a story
about our human nature.
And the focus of a battle to save a species we pushed to the very
brink of extinction.
You look at that great big lumbering dinosaur and you think, hey,
what did we do wrong? Why did we end up in this crazy situation?
Sudan is inside a pen and we will maintain the right-hand side
and we will avoid talking. We will talk when we come out of Sudan.
So maybe one person at a time can have a chance
to have a photo with Sudan.
It's amazing for us to have him here.
He's really popular.
I mean, he's like a little star, you know, a Hollywood star.
This is the last male.
People of all over the world have written about him
and people are coming here to film him,
people are coming here to photograph him.
We have a calendar for Sudan,
because we don't want to have more than one film crew or one journalist
coming to visit him during a day, because he needs to rest.
He's got followers on Facebook, on Instagram, you know,
he's got his own hash tag.
So if you search for #LastMaleStanding on Twitter,
you will see that he's quite popular.
I would go as far as saying that he's the most popular
rhino on the planet.
A lot of people have heard about Sudan
because of what's happening to the species.
This is not a Kodak moment.
It's a real shame that it's now that people are coming to see Sudan, but
the bottom line is, people are interested in crisis, aren't they?
And this is a crisis.
Sudan's kind have roamed our planet for some 50 million years.
He's a northern white rhino, a subspecies,
once abundant in central Africa.
But which today is on the edge of extinction with just three animals
known to be alive. Sudan and his two female companions.
This is a very big problem because how can you save a species which is
already declared as extinct?
That's why science has to come in.
So everybody, welcome to this meeting.
We are very, very privileged to have very,
very expert people at this table.
There are veterinarians here, there are reproductive experts here,
there are conservationists here.
I spent 22 years living with the northern white rhinos in the wild.
Despite everything we've done,
you know, we're down to,
reduced to a small known number.
It's terrible to have got to this stage.
This meeting of experts, global experts,
is going to try to find a way of introducing emerging technology
into the northern white rhino rescue programme,
which is extremely challenging.
We're trying to find a way of making sure these animals
continue to exist.
We're racing against time,
because there's only three animals left on the planet,
of which only two are females.
And Sudan is an old rhino. He could die tomorrow.
This rhino lived for several millions of years on our planet.
Yeah, he looks quite active. Yeah.
And it would still live another several millions,
but the perversity of going for the horn
brings them into this situation.
And I think humans did that,
and humans have the responsibility to correct it.
The tale of how Sudan came to be the last male on the planet
begins 40 years ago, when he was just a baby.
There's no picture, photograph of Sudan as a baby.
He was actually born in the South Sudan,
in an area where there were not many people.
But like all baby rhinos, he would have stuck close to his mother.
When it was really hot, he might have been sheltering under her
to be in the shade or they would both be sitting under a tree or,
you know, by a bush.
He'd be very close to her everywhere, going everywhere,
very close with her.
At his age, he would have been going between the grass but his mother
would have been holding her head over the grass.
And they call to each other, a little meow, meow, meow.
Little mews that rhinos call to each other as a contact call,
so they don't get lost.
It's the one time in a rhino's life
when they are hugely vulnerable
is when they're small. Probably the biggest threat are hyenas,
number one. Number two, probably lion, and of course, human beings.
That little fellow, all he wants to do is just be with his mum and he
knows that's his only chance.
If he gets separated from his mum, he's terribly stressed out.
Sudan was two years old.
He was the youngest of the whole lot that we caught.
It was the Chipperfield family's, sort of, brainstorm
to start safari parks.
And it was a new concept, totally new way of showing animals, wild
animals. Longleat was the first one in the world
and I happened to get a job there.
Richard Chipperfield started setting up safari parks in many other
countries in Europe.
So obviously, he needed more and more animals.
It was exhilarating.
It was great fun.
I enjoyed it.
You roped the animals and then everybody grabs the animal
from all angles.
And then take it back to camp.
You have to remember, in those days, there was SO much wildlife around.
Herds of thousands or more elephants.
It was not uncommon at all.
I don't think anybody sees that many elephants in one herd today.
So it was like, sure, you take a few individuals to go to safari parks
and people in Europe can see these animals and appreciate them.
When the Chipperfields wanted someone to go out
and join the capture team, I quickly volunteered and was accepted
and within a few days, there I was in Africa.
In 1974, Richard asked me to take some of our crew and go up to Shambe
in South Sudan, because he had heard
that there were northern white rhinos up there.
In the years preceding Sudan's birth,
a wave of heavy poaching dramatically reduced
the number of northern white rhinos, driving the survivors
into increasingly remote areas.
Well, it was an adventure, because South Sudan was seriously primitive.
This was quite a rare species
and we had an actual order to catch six -
two males and four females.
We had to find the right sort of size.
Something that is definitely weaned, but not too grown either.
So that they were pretty easy to shape, you could say.
They would tame down and adjust easier to a different life.
When we went to catch it, the first job in the morning,
I used to go up with a pilot and float around in the sky
like a vulture and we'd fly round until we found the rhinos.
And then, it was just a question of being able to get them on the move,
nip in, steal one.
My pole was going directly behind the animal's head, that's so
he couldn't see me. Couldn't see my rope.
It came to that split second and then I knew
that all I'd got to do was that.
I can remember catching Sudan.
He put his head straight through my noose and...got him.
I don't think I ever felt that I was doing wrong,
but I suppose I couldn't help but have some sympathy.
An animal's being taken away from the herd, or from mothers.
It can't have been easy.
Sounds crazy, but in a way, we were saving them
from the risk of poaching.
What would have happened to Sudan if you hadn't captured him?
He'd be dead.
For sure. A long time ago.
They all would.
Annie stayed with the six rhinos, and then eventually,
they moved them out from there and took them into Uganda
and on the train down to Mombasa.
Then they shipped from Mombasa to Europe.
And then headed into the communist bloc to the Czech Republic.
Czechoslovakia, as it was then.
The rhinos were on actual order from Jo Vagner.
He was a TV personality in Czechoslovakia as it was then.
He had a weekly show about wildlife and he was the director
for Dvur Kralove Zoo, collecting all sorts of various species.
THEY ARGUE IN CZECH
Oh, she will not talk English at all.
This is Sudan.
-My father took six to Czech Republic, to Czechoslovakia.
And actually, I remember my grandfather,
whenever he had time, he came,
he jump in this little corridor, I don't know how you say it,
and he was talking to them. They always came.
He whistled on them. He has his own special whistle.
He whistled and they were far, far away.
He whistled, and they came to him
and he was just like patting them
and telling them, everything will be all right.
And they're in safe place in the world
and it was a really touching story. Yeah.
This is a white-lipped rhinoceros
and it's got this wide mouth,
because it eats lots of grass.
We don't have a fence.
It's much nicer when you can look them in the eyes.
Of course, there has to be some kind of protection, because otherwise,
the rhinos could kill the visitors.
-Our aim is not only to display these animals.
We want them to reproduce.
I want these animals to survive in their new home so in the future,
our nation's children will have the chance of coming
face-to-face with them.
Don't get me wrong, certainly the folk who had the northern whites in
captivity, you know, they're good people and they tried terribly hard
to give them as natural an environment as possible.
But unfortunately, they never could give them what they had in the wild.
And that is one of the huge issues about what happened
to the northern whites.
Well, this is a stained-glass window that's...Garamba.
I wanted to put something here that was really Garamba.
As you can see, there's a rhino at the bottom,
the long grass and the blue is supposed to be the Garamba river,
curving away and Mount Bagunda in the background.
-Sort of a memorial?
-Well, sort of, yes.
I've been reliving so much of it.
I just thought it was...
a nice thing to have in one's house.
It was at the end of the '70s.
I started working in a rhino conservation.
We found that northern white rhino populations were going downhill
Doctor Kes Hillman, a young zoologist,
has been investigating the rhino slaughter in Africa.
Kes, just how endangered are the rhinoceros at the moment?
Well, some species of rhinos,
there's only about a tenth of the numbers that there were in the past,
so if anything desperate was to happen,
the species could be wiped out.
In Africa and Asia, the rhinoceros is being ruthlessly hunted
and in some parts, it's in danger of extinction.
And all because of its horn,
which in many places is regarded as an aphrodisiac.
All the countries where the northern white rhino unfortunately naturally
occurred were incredibly unstable.
And instability and civil war, etcetera, means increased poaching.
And poaching, it makes money to keep the war going.
Armed conflict across central Africa in the 1970s and early 1980s
helped wipe out the northern white rhino population...
..except for a small stronghold in the Garamba national park.
Garamba is 5,000 square kilometres.
It's a long, narrow park up in the North
of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The remaining northern white rhinos in the world were living there.
In March 1984,
we were asked to come in to help to protect this precious population.
When they first counted, there were about 14 rhinos left in Garamba.
But clearly, enough to turn things around
and get a nice population going.
Obviously, security is the most important issue.
We started up law enforcement monitoring,
training groups of guys from the local town.
It was always a concern when you've got a very small population
like that and they are in a relatively dangerous area,
because there was still war going on in Sudan.
It's a risk.
But I believe it's really important to protect them
in their natural habitat, rather than in zoos.
Because it's clearly a perfect habitat for them.
The survival of the northern white rhinos was now dependent
on the success of two tiny populations.
15 who roamed free in Africa and seven kept behind the Iron Curtain
-It's pretty obvious that we can't leave it up to nature
to make sure this species survives.
There are so few of these animals left, we've got to step in and help.
-Here in chilly Czechoslovakia,
we're breeding these tropical African animals.
Our zoo is famous because it's one of the few zoos around the world
involved in reproducing these rare rhinos.
Well, I guess by the early '90s,
Kes and her team had stabilised the situation.
The rhino were breeding up nicely.
Population increasing, and I think she was now comfortable to say,
"Let's get to know a bit more about these rhinos."
In Garamba, I was trying to observe the northern white rhinos' natural
behaviour and you were trying to understand what makes a population
survive and grow under natural conditions.
What I found was that like with every African rhino species,
the dominant males fight for and hold a territory
and they defend that against other dominant males.
And you would get fighting between males at that stage.
With all rhino, the dominant male basically,
he's got to strut his stuff, hold his area.
All of this competition is terribly important to fire them up.
Their testosterone levels are up and they're good for breeding.
The males will leave dung and urinate around their territory,
so another male coming in will think, "Oh, dear.
"He's here. I'd better stay away or I'd better be wary or..."
And a female would, "Woo hoo!
"He's here!", you know, "Let's go in there."
In Garamba, it was just a very healthy situation
and they were just producing babies all the time.
That was wonderful. Whenever you see, you know, see a new calf,
"Oh, so-and-so's had a baby!", you know,
and we'd decide what we were going to call it.
Kes was hugely successful.
These animals were now safe in Garamba.
You know, this is where they had evolved.
This is where they had always, you know, done well.
You know, the white rhinos were in paradise.
By the mid-1990s,
the rhino population in Garamba had more than doubled to 31.
In captivity, there had been three births.
But also two deaths.
And as Cold War tensions eased, three were lent to San Diego zoo
in the hope that they would breed there.
In 12 years, the rhinos in Garamba had doubled
and the rhinos in captivity weren't doing so well.
You know, they were in concrete enclosures and of course,
they would be leaving dung in those areas and then going back
and another one would be coming out, and so, it was quite confusing
for the rhinos.
They seemed to develop the most peculiar shaped horns,
because they can't rub them in the same way
that they do in the wild.
It's a very unnatural situation for them.
-I'm no longer very optimistic.
They're just vegetating here.
They're living in conditions which look good
but don't provide for their biological needs.
By that stage, Sudan had spent almost 20 years in captivity.
Who knows what went on in his mind, we'll never know.
Physiologically, I think there must be something negative happening,
something, you know, less than perfect.
It must have taken a long time to make peace with his different
environment he's in.
You can imagine, it was clearly a very difficult situation.
As the numbers of northern whites became less and less,
these animals became more of a valuable drawcard for the zoo.
I'm just saying it's a possibility that folk might have hung on to them
longer than they should have,
because they knew people were fascinated.
"Let's go and have a look at them before they're all gone."
Keeping the rhinos in zoos is not totally natural,
but on the other hand, it's important for people...
You know, in the West to be able to see these animals and to realise the
importance of conserving them in the wild and as we now see,
they're are an important back-up, because, you know,
you can't always predict what's going to happen in Africa.
-Congo is sliding ever deeper into chaos.
-The Sudanese government
says it's putting down a rebellion in Darfur.
There is fighting on the streets of Kinshasa tonight,
and this war could spread across central Africa.
Kes had no illusions about, you know, the potential
for instability in Garamba.
She knew that it had always been a very unstable part of Africa,
so anything could happen, and yes, anything did happen.
In 2004, we suddenly detected these groups of horsemen.
These guys are actually a sort of mix of tribes,
but generally known as the Umberoro.
And they are age-old elephant hunters from Sudan...
..but the war had changed things.
They're now armed with AK-47s and rocket launchers and hand grenades.
We set up observation posts on hills and reinforcement posts.
But still they were sort of advancing towards
the elephant and rhino areas.
One day, I was, I happened to be in the radio room,
and they suddenly started calling on the radio about...
There were horses in the park.
We jumped into the plane and flew out over that area.
We flew along the Aka Garamba River.
We found a couple of guys on horseback and a trail of donkeys,
loaded with what was probably ivory and rhino horn.
When we went back and we surveyed the area where they'd been,
it was just a devastation of rhinos massacred everywhere.
It was a real, huge massacre.
There was a nine-year-old female, who was killed just down here.
You know, she'd had her horn absolutely hacked off at the front.
You know, and she was quite young.
She was a perfect, reproductive age female.
You know, it was a real tragedy.
It is every time that you find them dead.
Later on, any rhino skulls that were found were brought in and we,
you know, identified them for sure.
We did a survey in July that year
and we could only find 14 rhinos
at that stage in the park.
By December, I did another survey and could only find nine rhinos.
And then, in 2008, they didn't actually see any.
We didn't quite get it right in Garamba.
I know that we did the best we could,
that circumstances that were not usually conservation issues,
they were political and power issues, were what,
generally, caused the problems.
And that's so often, so often the case.
It's been the story across Africa in the last 30, 40 years,
how our wildlife populations have been decimated
as a result of political instability.
And they were all killed?
They were all killed. There are no northern white rhino
left in Garamba. That's for sure.
My predecessors spent about 40 years trying
to keep the northern white rhinos alive and, you know,
to give them the best possible conditions for breeding.
But it's difficult to change
decisions that were made in the past.
But today, it's obvious that we still feel responsibility for them.
Now we are in the basement of a zoo.
And as we enter into archive, we have a library here.
And we have diaries, in which we wrote all the main things
that happened to animals that we breed here.
From 1975 to 2009,
Sudan's life is here.
By 2009, the situation in the zoo was like, I wouldn't say desperate,
but people believed it would be good to do something,
to try something else.
Time was running out, you know.
These are five animals in captivity,
who are now some of the last representatives
of this subspecies, in the world.
But it was sort of my idea to see if putting the four most healthy ones
back in a natural environment would improve their breeding.
We just had to get them out and give them a go.
I was there when Sudan walked out of his crate
and put his foot on African soil for the first time in 30 years.
Yeah, it was a pretty extraordinary experience.
The keeper's from the Czech Republic.
He had this sort of crazy Czech language, you know,
and the keeper's talking to them and, hey, somewhere along the line,
I guess Sudan had learned Czech!
You could just see happy rhinos.
You could see definitely an improvement in their health,
their whole sort of demeanour.
They had more freedom and loved the climate here and things were looking
very positive. We might just have pulled it off.
So a lot of things changed for the better and gave us hope that this
process of bringing them back to Africa was going to result
in not only mating activity, but successful pregnancies.
They started mating pretty quickly.
Now, the problem was, when mating activity happened,
it never resulted in a pregnancy.
It was then that we started looking more closely at the reasons why.
We work with elephants, tigers, lions, giant panda, octopus.
The main goal of our activities is to understand
reproduction in wildlife, especially in endangered species.
Two years ago, they brought our team in
to examine the two remaining females in Ol Pejeta.
We did ultrasound examination.
We found dramatic pathological changes on them.
We found that if there is no ongoing reproduction,
then it has a negative impact on the ovaries, the uterus,
these females already shut down their reproduction.
They were not more reproductively active.
Sadly, the truth of the matter is,
because the females hadn't bred for such a long period
in zoo conditions, they were now no longer able to conceive.
By the time this discovery was made,
the remaining captive rhinos in San Diego and the Czech Republic
had all died.
And in Ol Pejeta, one of the four rhinos who had returned
died suddenly of a heart attack.
The world population now stood at just three.
Hello, big boy.
Hello, big boy.
Hello, big boy.
Hello, big fella.
Hello, big fella.
Hello, big chap.
Hello, big fella.
Hello, big chappy chap.
Hello, boy. Hello, boy.
Maybe having some small dreams of when he was a little fellow
in Sudan all those years ago.
He's definitely a bit more rickety on his legs.
He's definitely a bit more frail.
He struggles to get up in the morning.
His back leg hurts him, so you know, yeah, he's an old man.
We have to expect that he will die sometime soon.
I'm just afraid now, if the other leg starts to become weak,
the right leg becomes weak, we've got a problem.
Either what will happen is he'll have a heart attack
and he'll fall over, dead, or he will...
If he gets into a position where he can't move,
which brings lots of complications for big-bodied animals,
then eventually, you'd have to think of euthanasia.
You'd have to put him out of his misery
just like you would do an old dog.
But the truth is, even if Sudan dies, we can still save the species.
And it's morally incumbent upon us to try to make this happen.
These are especially protected cryo containers,
which have an alarm system which calls us
when something is going wrong.
And in here are the samples from the different rhinos.
It is really the backbone of the programme.
That's sperm samples.
We have to have a quick look.
That straw is where the sperm is stored.
We have samples here from northern white rhinos which are all dead.
And we also have samples from Sudan in Ol Pejeta,
and that makes four males which we can use
for the in vitro fertilisation programme.
There is no way that these animals can reproduce natural wise.
The only way to help would be to use science.
They advance the product of science.
Although there's plenty of sperm stored in Berlin,
the scientist will also need eggs
from the two remaining females in Ol Pejeta.
They plan to harvest these eggs, known as oocytes,
fertilise them with northern white rhino sperm,
and transfer the embryos into a herd of surrogates.
The closely related, but less threatened, southern white rhinos.
The resulting calves could form the basis for a new generation
of northern white rhinos.
In vitro fertilisation in cattle and horses is a regular occurrence.
The problem is, it's never actually been done
in rhinos as a species.
This process has to be perfected
before the last remaining females die.
If those females die tomorrow, which could happen for whatever reason,
then the last remaining repository of northern white rhino eggs
would be lost.
We have to act very quickly, because Najin is already 26 and Fatu is 15,
so the biological clock and the time window we can be successful,
it's very short.
It's quite a big burden when you do something new that you can't fear,
but, in this case...
..no failure allowed.
That's the female we do.
Before they act as surrogates for the northern white,
captive southern white rhinos have another role to play.
IVF has never been successfully carried out on rhinos before,
so the scientists will practise on this closely-related sub species.
In any other animal, this procedure's pretty straightforward,
but a rhino being so large and long and, it needs all
these special equipment which makes the whole procedure
very, very difficult.
A two-tonne animal is challenging.
Now it's a very long distance, we can't reach always with the hand.
Therefore, we have to go 1.5 metres inside and that's impossible to do
it via the vagina approach, which is the standard procedure in humans,
cattle and horses. We have to go through the rectum.
Carla is her name.
Do you think that she's nervous?
Oh, I think we are more nervous!
I see the obstacles. I am not stupid.
I'm a scientist. There are a lot of still unsolved problems.
But we have a species here which is nearly extinct
due to human activity,
and we have, maybe, the tools in our hands to stop that.
We take the mounted ultrasound probe about a metre inside the animal and
then inside the animal,
you have to find the ovary and then hold it at the right position
for Thomas to go with the needle into the ovary,
aspirating the oocyte out.
It's a lot of effort, a lot of time and also money and resources but
there's not many other options.
If we operate, there's our needle very close
to a very large blood vessel.
And if we puncture that, then we would lose the patient.
So far, so good. The whole procedure went really well.
We aspirated the oocytes, hopefully,
and Thomas is trying to find them at the moment under the microscope.
We found six oocytes.
I lost one, so we have five oocytes.
We'll send them off to a lab and then they add the sperm,
they inject the sperm.
-And we'll know more in about three days,
whether this works or not.
If we can prove that this procedure is not doing harm to animals,
and we are capable to produce embryos out of that...
..then we would test that on Fatu and Najin.
The rhinos' eggs are couriered nearly 800 miles
to a specialist lab in northern Italy.
There, after they are fertilised, they should begin dividing.
Within days, they'll grow into a bundle of cells
known as a blastocyst.
Only if they reach this stage have they got a good chance
of becoming a healthy baby rhino.
Science is characterised by failures.
By successes, but also by failures.
We are quite disappointed about this outcome.
One of the oocytes developed into an embryo,
but at a very early stage, it stopped.
We have a problem with the whole development of the blastocyst.
The failure to produce a viable rhino embryo
means the scientists have had to recruit more southern whites
from zoos across Europe to practise on.
We are close.
We are not there, but we are close.
We made a lot of progress over the last months.
But science is not predictable.
We can't say at the end, we will be for sure successful.
We now know that we have the power to destroy the rhinos.
What we try to do now is actually to see whether we have the power
to save them.
We have to accept that we might fail.
The day Sudan goes, it's going to be, it's going to be hectic,
you know, in terms of media and people are going to want pictures
and they're going to want to write about him and stuff like that,
so I'm afraid to say that we are ready.
We've got a press release ready, just for the day he goes,
just because we need to be, you know.
I don't know if the zoo is going to want his bones back, to be honest,
because, you know, in the end, he's their animal.
And if we are not allowed to keep his bones,
then we would definitely put a headstone for him
at the rhino cemetery.
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need
to try to save the northern white rhinos.
The breeding programme in Czechoslovakia,
it would have been really successful, you know,
they would flourish in the central Africa.
They would roam the large savannas there.
Unfortunately, this didn't happen
and it's only due to human activities.
I think this dilemma we're going to face more and more in the years to
come, you know, there are, with so many species just, you know,
tiny populations left and would it be best to put them in captivity
or best to take their chances in the wild?
There are some species which have done extremely well in captivity,
but I think we understand now that some animals just don't do very well
in a zoo environment, that they probably shouldn't be there.
You know, safety from being poached...
..but not breeding, ultimately, it's as lethal, essentially,
as having them in the wild, with the threat of poaching.
The northern white rhinos are just a symbol of what we do to the natural
world. It's very visible with the northern white rhinos,
because we witnessed the last three animals and we witness,
you know, they're disappearing, actually, in front of our eyes.
But there are many, many other species disappearing
but we cannot see it so clearly, like we see it
with the northern white rhinos.
# Oh, nobody loves the rhinoceros much
# If you ask the reason why
# They will tell you because of his scaly touch
# Or his hard and glittering eye
# But should you ask a truthful man
# You will get this quick response
# I do not trust that thing on his nose
# The bodger on his bonce!
# Oh, the bodger on the bonce!
# The bodger on the bonce!
# Oh, pity the poor old rhino with
# The bodger on the bonce! #
The remarkable story of 43-year-old Sudan, the very last male northern white rhino on the planet. Aged just three, Sudan was snatched from his mother's side in Central Africa. He became a prized exhibit in a zoo behind the Iron Curtain, while the rest of his kind was poached to extinction in the wild. Today, Sudan has become an unwitting celebrity and the focus of a desperate eleventh hour battle to save his sub-species. This astonishing modern-day fable is told through the international cast of characters who have been involved in Sudan's life, for better and for worse.