Eric Warner Staff Writer
“There is a silence in the imminence of animals and also in the echo of their noise, but the dread silence is the one that rises from a wilderness from which all the wild animals have gone.” – Peter Matthiessen.
On March 20, 2018 the last male Northern White Rhino in the world died at the age of 45 due to age-related complications that caused degenerative changes to his muscles and bones.
Named Sudan, he was put down to end his suffering, but died surrounded by his caretakers who grew to love him as if he was a member of all of their families. However, the same could not be said for the rest of his kind. Sudan left the world with only two other Northern White Rhinos remaining, both of which are related to Sudan; one being his daughter, Najin, and the other being his granddaughter, Fatu. With no other male Northern White Rhinos in the world to breed with these females, the subspecies is effectively extinct. Once the females die, the Northern White Rhino will join the list of many animals that have gone extinct thanks to human actions.
Poaching, along with habitat loss and climate change, have caused the Northern White Rhino to go extinct. Hunters desire to kill these creatures for their horns either to sell on the black market or to acquire as trophies. Many believe that a rhino’s horn, which is mainly made of keratin (the same material in horse hooves and fingernails), can be used for medicinal purposes. In China it’s believed that it can treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other ailments. In Vietnam it’s believed that a rhino’s horn can cure hangover’s, act as an aphrodisiac, and be used to treat terminal illnesses. However, there is little to no research that supports these claims and are merely supported by tradition as these countries, China in particular, have been using rhino horns as “medicine” for thousands of years. According to Richard Ellis, author of Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn, “It is not clear that rhino horn serves any medicinal purpose whatsoever, but it is a testimony to the power of tradition that millions of people believe that it does.” This is not solely affecting the Northern White Rhino, however.
Due to these conceptions or the simple desire to hang a rhino horn on a wall, the rhino populations around the world have been devastated. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF,) currently the most common rhino is the Southern White Rhino with a population around 20,000 followed by the African Black Rhino with a population around 5,000, only 3 subspecies of which remain. The Asian Rhinos are in a bigger predicament, with the Greater One-Horned Rhinos having a population of around 3,500, the Sumatran Rhino having a population of around 50 to 100, and the Javan Rhino having a population of around 50 to 60. The Northern White Rhino is currently existing at a population of 2. If protection for these animals is not supported, most of these creatures could disappear within our lifetime and the world could all but lose its rhinos. If poaching isn’t stopped for all endangered creatures, the only animals our descendants will see are those in Petco and those on their dinner plates.