6 Northern White Rhinos Are Left On The Planet, And Their Days Are Numbered

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Well this is the worst. A male Northern White Rhino died Friday, leaving just six rhinos left of the entire species — and just one male who could potentially produce new baby rhinos. There are also only two remaining female Northern White Rhinos who can breed, meaning extinction may be inevitable.

The 34-year-old male rhino, named Suni, was living with some of the last of his family on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. According to The Guardian, he was moved from the Czech Republic to the Kenyan wildlife refuge in 2009 to take part in a breeding program. Sadly, Suni's most recent mating efforts were unsuccessful, and rhinos don't mate very often as it is.

So how exactly did this happen? Well, the subspecies' numbers plummeted due to extreme levels of poaching for their skin and ivory. According to the World Wildlife Federation, their ivory is prized by traditional Asian medicine. Despite a lack of scientific backup, powder made from their tusks is said to cure nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions, and fevers.

I won't get into how dangerous unfounded scientific claims are, but they're pretty dangerous when enough people believe in them. The medicine market is playing a pretty self-defeating game hiring poachers however, because by continuing to decimate the rhino population, they're eliminating the source of the powder altogether.

Ol Pejeta said in a statement:

Despite the increasingly grim outlook for these guys, the conservancy isn't ready to give up hope just yet. In the statement, they added they'll continue to use their resources to encourage the remaining rhinos to produce a northern white rhino calf.

But the news isn't all bad. The Northern White Rhino's cousin, the Southern White Rhino, has experienced different luck. They were on the brink of extinction a century ago, but conservation efforts have boosted their numbers to around 20,000, landing them in the WWF's "Near Threatened," classification. According to the WWF, they are now the only species of rhinos that is not endangered.

It may not be possible to save the Northern White Rhino, but the WWF encourages those who want to help to refrain from buying products made with ivory. Additionally, donations to the federation go towards equipment used to combat poachers and safeguard endangered species. You can donate to them here.

Images: Flickr/HeleneHoffman (2), Getty