Before he was euthanized by a veterinary team, photographer Ami Vitale was able to say farewell to her old friend.
Sudan, a northern white rhino and the last male of his subspecies, died Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
“It was heartbreaking yesterday, but I was relieved I could say goodbye,” Vitale said. “He leaned his head right into me and then the rains came pouring down, just as they had when he arrived here nine years ago.”
Workers at the conservancy watch the rhinos around the clock and protect them. The hope was that the climate and the extra room to roam would entice them to breed. But time ran out on Sudan, and now there are only two northern whites left in the world: his daughter, Najin, and his granddaughter, Fatu.
Vitale first met Sudan in 2009, when he and three other northern white rhinos — among the last of their kind — were moved to Kenya from a zoo in the Czech Republic. The subspecies had been reduced to eight worldwide because of poachers, who target rhinos for their horns.
“It was really hard on all of his keepers,” Vitale said. “They’ve fallen in love with him. They say they wake up in the morning and see (the rhinos) often before they see their own children. They say, ‘These are our babies.’ ”
Photo editors: Bernadette Tuazon and Natalie Yubas
By Kyle Almond, CNN
Photos by Ami Vitale
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