Ami Vitale Photographs the Last Male White Northern Rhino

“What would happen if we chose to illuminate the things that unite us as human beings rather than just the things that divide us?” asks National Geographic photojournalist Ami Vitale.

Vitale had always dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent, and without intending to, became a war photographer. She covered the war in Kosovo and had also been to Gaza.

“There were plenty of stories all around us. But we were asked to focus on violence, obviously. That’s what sells the newspapers. This was a profound moment in my life, when I started to ask myself all these questions.” Including the one this article opens with.

Vitale has been in the news a lot as of late. Of the more peaceful stories she has covered, few have perhaps garnered as much as attention as the recent death of Sudan, the last male white northern rhinoceros on the planet.

Back in 2009, Vitale covered a story that she says almost seems like a Disney movie: the air-lifting of four rhinos from the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in a last-ditch effort to preserve the species. On a cold winter night in December of that year, Sudan, Suni, Najin, and Fatu were moved back to their native environment.

In a 2014 National Geographic online article, Vitale writes, “When I saw these huge, hulking gentle creatures surrounded by smokestacks and factories in the zoo outside of Prague, it seemed so unfair that we have reduced an entire species to this.”

The hope behind the major project was that these four males, still of mating age, might mate in an environment with warmer temperatures and more freedom. The seismic plan was to repopulate Africa. Although some mating did take place, no pregnancies resulted.

In a BBC interview, Vitale says, “The thing that really struck me after witnessing so much conflict and violence in my career is that every single issue I covered, whether it was war or poverty or health always ended up being dependent on nature for its outcomes.”

Just a few weeks ago, on March 20th, Sudan was euthanized. Suffering from serious health problems, including numerous skin injuries, the 5,000-pound behemoth was no longer able to stand. Vitale was there to take the last photos of the last male white northern rhino on earth.

Will the death of this one rhino be a story that unites us or divides us? It may be a question to Tweet to Vitale during her talk on Thursday, April 26 @ 7.30PM. Tickets are still available for the last presentation in National Geographic Live series. Don’t miss out. Order your tickets today.