With the northern white rhino population down to only five animals, a group of armed rangers has taken to guarding the only male of the species around the clock.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya has three white rhinos, including Sudan, the only male of his kind and the only hope of saving the species from extinction. In a last-ditch effort to preserve the northern white rhino’s living legacy, Sudan is closely guarded by an armed detail of park rangers.
To keep close tabs on Sudan while allowing the animal to roam free, the 40-year old rhino is also equipped with a radio transmitter collar. A team of 40 also regularly patrols the park, keeping an eye out for human intruders. In an attempt to deter poachers, the park has sawed off Sudan’s horn.
Illegal hunters most frequently kill rhinos for their most distinguishing feature, which are falsely believed to have medicinal value yet command high prices on the black market. Northern white rhinos were nearly wiped out by poachers between 1960 and 1980, plummeting from a population of 2,000 to only 15.
Sudan and three other northern white rhinos came to the conservancy in 2009 with the plan to breed the animals, which has so far been unsuccessful. The only other male in the group died in October 2014, leaving the fate of the species squarely on Sudan’s shoulders.
The situation has become increasingly desperate, with poachers taking 54 rhinos in Kenya in 2014. Armed rangers are often the first line of defense against poachers, and frequently find themselves in the crosshairs of poachers who seek to avoid prosecution. To give them an edge, the rangers at Ol Pejeta are provided with extensive training and outfitted with night vision goggles, GPS devices, and teams of tracking and support dogs.
So far, their brave efforts appear to be making a difference. In the last 18 months, poachers managed to kill just two rhinos, and in both cases the criminals were unable to make off with the horn.
However, the ranger’s duties are also expensive, and concerns over Ebola and security in the region has slowed the tourism that finances the park’s conservation work.
To strengthen the park’s protection of it’s remaining rhinos and ensure its staff stays on guard, The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is currently raising funds on GoFundMe, and insists every little bit helps. “We are aiming to raise enough to safeguard the wages for the forty strong team for the next six months,” the park writes on its GoFundMe page. “Any which way, every single pound contributed will help secure the rangers, that secure the rhino, for us and for future generations.”