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There Are Now Only 6 Northern White Rhinos On Earth

<p><a class="checked-link" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_white_rhinoceros#mediaviewer/File:Northern_White_Rhino_cows_Najin_%26_Fatu_at_The_Ol_Pejeta_Conservancy..jpg">Guy Lemal/Wikimedia Commons</a></p>

Over a million years ago, the northern white rhino roamed across Chad, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. In 1960, there were about 2,000 of them. In the 1970s and ‘80s, poachers reduced their population from 500 to 15. Now, there are only six members of the species left.

That number had been seven until Friday, when Suni, a 34-year-old male who was the first northern white rhino to be born in captivity, was found dead by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The cause of death is unclear. What's worse, Suni was one of two breeding males in the world.

"Consequently the species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race," the conservancy said in a statement.

Born at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, Suni was brought to the conservancy in 2009 with four other northern white rhinos for a breeding program. Their horns were removed to make them less vulnerable to poachers. One of the rhinos after transport:

(Lengai101/Wikimedia Commons)

There are three northern white rhinos in zoos (one at the Dvur Kralove Zoo and two at the San Diego Zoo). Attempts have been made to artificially inseminate these animals but none have been successful. Now, the fate of the species rests squarely on the three rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy - one male and two females.

The population is a subspecies of the white rhino. The southern white rhinoceros is faring much better, with an estimated 17,000 wild-living animals, thanks to intensive conservation efforts. Recent research has suggested the northern white rhinoceros is in fact its own distinct species, despite their physical similarities.

It's feared that soon enough, the northern white rhino will go the way of the western black rhino, a genetically different subspecies of the black rhino who was declared extinct in 2011.