Sudan might be the last male northern white rhino on the planet, but he is not living out his twilight years alone.
The 43-year-old bull — whose age equates to 95 in human years — has found solace in some equine company.
Sudan has formed a bond with eight-year-old Friesian-cross gelding Njema, who is one of a number of horses who live in the same enclosure as the rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
The conservancy holds and protects the largest population of the highly endangered black rhino in East Africa, as well as a smaller population of the less threatened southern white rhino and is doing everything it can to prevent the northern white rhino’s extinction.
The last two remaining northern white females — Naijin and Fatu — also live at the facility in close proximity to Sudan, but because of his age-related frailty, they have to be kept separately.
“The management feel that Njema provides Sudan with good company. Njema is very placid, friendly and inquisitive,” said the Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s Sarah Vigne.
“Rhinos and horses are closely related from a genetic perspective and Sudan and Njema bonded naturally. Sudan likes to sleep as close to the horses as he can at night,” she added.
Sarah revealed that while seeing different species form a bond was quite common, she was not aware of any previously documented friendships between horses and rhinos.
“We also haven’t seen the horses make friends with any of the other animals on the conservancy – as yet anyway!” she said.
The 14.2hh Njema originally came from South Africa and is one of a group of horses used for safaris at the site, where visitors can ride in the wilderness amongst the rhinos and other endangered species.
“He was flown up initially as a safari horse in the Serengeti and then to Kenya as a successful novice eventing horse and now he shares his eventing time with treks into the Ol Pejeta endangered species boma [enclosure], where there are Grevy’s Zebras, Jackson’s Hartebeest and the last two female northern white rhinos,” Sarah said.
“It was Njma’s groom, Samson, who has cared for him and competed him in Kenya, who discovered that Sudan and Njema needed to chat as Sudan kept coming up to Njema’s stable to find out what was going on!” she added.
As the last of his species, Sudan was recently voted the “most eligible bachelor” on the dating app Tinder.
The move was part of a campaign to help raise money for a programme to breed from the remaining two northern white rhino females, who have not been able to conceive naturally.
Work is now ongoing in Europe, the US and South Africa to try and develop a technique for IVF in rhinos and it is hoped that one day the eggs of the two remaining females can be removed and fertilized using stored semen to create northern white embryos. These would then be implanted in to surrogate southern white females with the hope of re-introducing the species.
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