The day Sudan died, everything felt both monumental and ordinary. It was a Monday, Gray sky, light rain. On the horizon, the sun was struggling to make itself seen over the sharp double peaks of Mount Kenya.

Little black-faced monkeys came skittering in over the fence to try to steal the morning carrots. Metal gates creaked and clanked. Men spoke in quiet Swahili.

Sudan lay still in the dirt, thick legs folded under him, huge head tilted like a capsizing ship. His big front horn was blunt, scarred, worn.

His breathing was harsh and ragged. All around him for miles in every direction the savanna teemed with life : warthogs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, baboons - creatures doing what they had been doing for eons, hunting and feeding and scavenging, breathing and going and being.

Until recently, Sudan had been part of this pulse. But now he could hardly move. He was a giant stillness at the center of all motion.

Sudan was last male northern white rhinoceros on Earth - the end of an evolutionary rope that stretched back millions of years. Although his death was a disaster, it was not a surprise. It was the grim climax of a conservation crisis that had been accelerating for many decades toward precisely this moment.

Sudan was a 45-years old, ancient for rhino. In the last years of his life, Sudan had become a global celebrity. He lived under the protection of a 24/7 armed guards. Visitors traveled from everywhere to see him.

Although Sudan was the last male, he was not the last of his kind. He still had two living descendants, both female; Najon, a daughter, and Fatu, a granddaughter. 

The two were now to live out their days in a strange existential twilight that scientists call, with heart-breaking dryness, ''functional extinction.'' Their subspecies was no longer viable. Two females all by themselves, would not be able to save it.

We expect extinction to unfold offstage. In the mists of prehistory, not right in front of our faces, on a specific calendar day. And yet here it was: 

March 19, 2018.

Sudan's caretakers scratched his rough skin, said goodbye, apologized for the sins of humanity. Finally the veterinarians euthanized him. For a short time he breathed heavily. And then he died.

Sudan's death inspired a media frenzy. A photo of him being caressed by one of his caretakers went viral on social media. The rhino area was overrun. And, inevitably the world's attention moved on.

In May 2019, just over a year after the death of Sudan, the United Nations issued an apocalyptic report about mass extinction. One million plant and animal species, it warned, were at risk of annihilation. 

One million is not just a number; it contains countless living creatures : individual frogs, bats, tigers, bees, eels.

Together, these animals makeup a vast, incredible archive : a collection of evolutionary stories so complex that our highly evolved brains can hardly begin to to hold them.

The publishing of this very touching knowledge, continues to 4 more parts in the future.

The World Students Society thanks author Sam Anderson.


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