The GuardianThe Guardian

Return of the rhino: Can we bring the northern white back from extinction?

By Mattha Busby

18 Dec 2022 · 8 min read

Editor's Note

The Guardian explores the idea of "de-extinction" as scientists debate the ethics of the process with a project to save the northern white rhino bringing questions to the forefront.

When Dr Natalie Cooper, a scientist at the Natural History Museum, met Sudan, the last surviving northern white male rhino, in Kenya before he died aged 45, she understandably feared the subspecies’ extinction was certain – mostly due to poaching fuelled by human greed for the prized horn. “The sense of enormity when staring extinction right in the eye is difficult to comprehend,” she reflects on that 2013 encounter. “It was fairly obvious by that point that the breeding programme wasn’t going to work – the subspecies seemed doomed, it was just a matter of time.”

But almost a decade later, the world’s rarest large mammal could be on the brink of an astonishing return from functional extinction. The growing efforts to save extant, but seriously threatened, species come alongside a controversial wider de-extinction movement that seeks to bring versions of lost animal breeds, such as woolly mammoths, back to life.

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