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How Far Do We Go to Save a Species?


How Far Do We Go to Save a Species?

Michaela Haas

Ask Thomas Hildebrandt why he walks with a limp, and he will tell you with a quick laugh that he had his arm up to his shoulder inside the back end of an elephant when the elephant decided to sit down.

This boyish German scientist is head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and the leading world expert in the artificial insemination of giant mammals. He just made headlines by announcing the creation of the first in vitro rhino embryo, and soon he will fly to Kenya for his most challenging job yet. He will either go down in history as the hero who saved the world's rarest large mammal—or as the idiot who accelerated its demise.

Last spring, obituaries for Sudan, the last male white northern rhino, made the front page of newspapers around the world. Before his guards at the safari park Ol Pejeta in Kenya put the ailing Sudan to sleep at age 45 (an eternity in rhino terms), a small army of bodyguards protected “the most eligible bachelor in the world” in his last years around the clock with machine guns. At one point the wildlife sanctuary opened a Tinder account for the 5,000-pound colossus, with the polite intro, “I don’t mean to be too forward, but the fate of my species literally depends on me.”

But no one swiped right. Or rather, the only two females of his species left on the planet weren’t available for dating: his 28-year-old daughter, Najin, and his 18-year-old granddaughter, Fatu.

Read the full story in Sierra Magazine here!