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Nature Presents The Incredible Story of Sudan, Last Male Northern White Rhinoceros tonight

Nature Presents The Incredible Story of Sudan, the LAs Make Northern White Rhino, February 21st

By: Judy Shields

The Incredible Story of Sudan, the Last Male Northern White Rhinoceros, Feb. 21st

Make sure not to miss tonight’s episode. I would recommend recording it as well so that you can watch it a few times and share it with your friends.

Tell your family and friends to tune into this show. I have seen it and it will make your heart-break and definitely want to do something to make a difference for our wildlife.

Nature: The Last Rhino

Premieres Wednesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS (check local listings)

Nature: The Last Rhino introduces viewers to Sudan, the very last male Northern White Rhinoceros. His harrowing journey is told through the international cast of characters who have been involved in Sudan’s life, from when he was snatched as a calf from his mother’s side in war-torn Central Africa, to his captivity as a prized exhibit in a cold, concrete zoo behind the Iron Curtain while poaching devastated his kind to extinction back home. Now 43 years old and half-blind, Sudan is living out his days under the 24-hour watch of an armed guard, on a protective sanctuary in Kenya. Meanwhile, a team of scientists and experts led by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research turn to technology in a race against time to save this majestic rhino subspecies whose origins date back at least five million years. One hour.

Sudan was first captured in February 1975 from a South Sudan game reserve and sent 7,000 miles to a remote zoo in the former Czechoslovakia. He is one of only three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet, and the only remaining male.

Sudan now lives in Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya with the world’s only two female Northern White Rhinos. He’s achieved celebrity status around the world with those who have taken up the cause of saving these magnificent creatures.

The Hollywood Times spoke with Fred Kaufman, executive producer and Janet Hess, Nature Series Editor.

The Hollywood Times (THT): “How did this story come across your desk?”

Fred Kaufman (FK): It was a BBC Production and they did a 90-minute documentary about the entire situation and we saw it as an incredible story. Sudan as a character, how many animals are guarded 24/7 and he is the last of his kind and he has his own Facebook page.  In a macabre short of way, he is a tourist attraction and when you have three individuals of a species, that species will not survive.  Kind of celebration in a way. There are so many emotional threads going through the film. It’s a historical document, it’s cutting edge science, it’s poignant so in a simplistic producers mind, it makes for good television and keys people into what is going on when you do get to such a small number of species remaining.”

THT: “How do you feel about Sudan being like a tourist attraction now that he is the last of his kind?”

Janet Hess (JH): “I think one of the strengths of the program is that it presents that conundrum, that something become more valuable when its’ rare.  Christian poaching has made the horn more valuable and in this case the experience of being in the presence of an animal like this, when there is only one male left on the planet.  Now it’s a premium experience and that’s the problem we face, it’s a story of extinction.  A shrinking population that is losing its chance to breed and now each individual becomes more valuable.  We have to face up somehow that we have caused this to happen.”

FK: “We never really appreciate anything until it’s gone or the threat of losing it.  This is a particular celebrity rhino with a name and a story and people are drawn to celebrities whether it is human or otherwise, so that is what you have.”

THT: “Sudan was captured at a young age and has survived many years in captivity, do you believe that is why he has lived so long since he was not in the wild?”

JH: “His capture is not what drove the species to this point.  There was a flourish of population there, its been poaching, that is the source of the problem.”

FK: “Well animals in general live longer in captivity, because they are cared for, they are fed regularly, their stress level is down and any sort of medical issue are treated.  But they don’t reproduce successfully in captivity and that is a good part of this story as well.”

THT: “What did you learn from directing and producing this story?”

JH: “I think these animals lives are so much more complex than we can imagine. Their biology is so complex, that we hope for a simple solution will take them to a zoo a breed them. There are lots of animals that this did not work out for.  The male rhinos need to fight to hold their territory and that is what brings them into breeding conditions.  We can’t generate that in a zoo.  Discovering that too late in this situation and now hoping that technology as a last step can perform some type of miracle.”

FK: This whole thing stems from the desire of their horn, which is nothing more than your fingernails are made of.  It kind of defies comprehension that it’s not some type of gem stone that it has no value.

THT: “What do you think we can learn from this special?”

FK: “It’s rare that we have such an extensive biography of a particular animal.  That hasn’t been studied in science by Jane Goodall or someone else, so just part on how Sudan was captured in Africa at a time when there were multitudes of these animals and take to a safari park and brought back to Africa. The biography of this particular individual is really noteworthy. If you want to get a sense at all, it also reflects the history of our thinking and relationship with these animals, which have come a long way.  I never feel qualified to even say, people get different things out of films and they see different meanings based on their own background, preferences and emotions, so there is a lot to see here from the science, to the biographical information about this one individual, as well as the poignancy of an animal that will leave us at one point.  The relationship it has with his keeper, the fact that it is guarded 24 hours a day, the work people are doing to try to save this species which is probably going to be hopeless.  Hopefully something good will happen that will benefit us in other ways.”

JH: “This entire decline and race to extinction has happened in a time period of one rhinos life.  One individual live encompasses this entire story of having plenty of habitat and good herd size and reproductive success down to the fact that they will be going into extinction.  It’s a cautionary tale as we look around, even the biggest animals, like the elephant, the lions are in trouble, the giraffe are in trouble and we have to be shaken out of our complacency, that these things can happen so quickly and take such a turn, and that we can’t solve the problem.  It is such a stunning thing to think of, that this is happening in the span of one rhinos life.”

FK: “The younger generation in Asia being raised with the idea of conservation much more in front of them.  Much more promoted than any other time.  The new generation needs to recognize that the ivory and rhino horns, no need for it!  Really uncool to have it.  It’s a very long-term generational change and view about these animals and conservation and value of having them there for children to see and all of us to appreciate.”

The White Rhinoceros, found only in Africa, has two genetically distinct subspecies – the Northern White Rhino and the Southern White Rhino. The White Rhino is the largest land mammal after the elephant and the only rhino to have a square, wide upper lip, which helps it graze.

Ceratotherium simum cottoni, or the Northern White Rhino, once roamed widely across the grasslands and savannas of Africa, but is now completely extinct in the wild due to extreme poaching.

The Southern White Rhino, or Ceratotherium simum simum, has successfully been brought back from the brink of extinction through careful protection and management. They are now classified as near endangered.

A troop of security officers, natives of the Bushland, protect the reservation from potential poachers. “To protect these animals, you have to risk your life,” says one of the officers. They have had to stop several poaching attempts this year.


Since the three living Northern White Rhinos are unable to produce more children the natural way, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is the only viable solution. To test this process, a group of scientists sedate Carla, a Southern White Rhinoceros, to extract her eggs. The extraction is very difficult and precise, allowing no room for error.

Follow the story of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhinoceros. His journey as the last of his kind is given a glimmer of hope from scientists and animal experts who turn to technology to save the Northern White Rhino before it dies out forever.

Meet Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, as experts attempt to save his kind from extinction.


About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Theater Close-Up, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: http://www.thirteen.org/passport.

Nature brings the wonders of natural history to millions of American viewers. Nature has won more than 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 18 Emmys and three Peabody Awards.

Production Credits:

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and PBS. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Bill Murphy is series producer. The Last Rhino is a co-production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC and BBC Studios in association with WNET. The documentary is directed by Rowan Deacon and produced by Liz Kempton. Sacha Mirzoeff and Simon Ford are executive producers and Roger Webb is series editor. Brendan Easton is director of photography and James Gold is film editor. Tom Harges is narrator. Original music by Justin Nicholls.


Support for this Nature program was made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Clarisse Arnhold, the Halmi Family in memory of Robert Halmi, Sr., Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Sandra Atlas Bass, Susan R. Malloy, Jennifer M. Combs, Timon J. Malloy and the Sun Hill Foundation, the Arlene and Milton D. Berkman Philanthropic Fund, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by the nation’s public television stations.

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