Northern white rhino Sudan
The northern white rhino Sudan, the last male of the species. Courtesy San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo shared news Tuesday that the last male northern white rhino has died of old age at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Only two females of the species remain alive, adding urgency to the zoo’s cutting-edge program to bring back the species from extinction.

“With a very heavy heart, San Diego Zoo Global is sharing the news that Sudan, a 45-year-old northern white rhino who lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, passed away from age-related health complications,” the zoo said in a statement. “Our most sincere and heartfelt sympathies are with Sudan’s keepers in Kenya who have loved and cared for him.”

The zoo is planning to use female rhinos from other species as surrogate mothers, and will use the latest DNA technology to create a new herd of northern white rhinos.

Researchers have frozen eggs and sperm from animals that are now dead, and will also use them stem cells to accomplish the groundbreaking project.

“As devastating as this may seem, there’s still hope,” the zoo said. “San Diego Zoo Global, in partnership with scientists and conservationists around the world, is dedicated to saving Sudan’s species from disappearing forever.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.