Splashed across the headlines this week is the sad news of the death of Sudan, the last Northern White Rhino. Sudan’s death leaves only two females of the species. It is hoped that IVF can be used to continue his legacy.
As so often, this near-extinction has hit the headlines because the rhino is an iconic species. This is both a blessing and a curse. Rhinos, like elephants, are targets of poachers and trophy hunters alike. Last week we re-published a blog post by Anais Heurtier about the controversial and troubling topic of legal trophy hunting. While being a target of poachers is obviously not a good thing, some argue that the revenue raised from trophy hunting is a good thing. Not so much for the animals whose lives are sold to the highest bidder… However there are also some positives to the iconic status the rhino possesses. In 2015, Sudan was placed under a 24-hour armed guard to protect him from poachers. While this precaution would obviously not have been necessary were he not a target to begin with, it is a testament to our respect for and love of animals these animals.
It is impossible to know how many species we are losing each year but the estimate is around 0.01 to 0.1% of the total number of species worldwide. If the minimum estimates for the number of species on our planet are correct (around 2 million species) that means we lose between 200 and 2,000 species every year. If our upper estimates are closer to the truth, this number escalates to between 10,000 and 100,000 species. Yet we do not see the loss of these in the media. Many of the species we lose each year, we do not know existed to begin with and now never will. We forget about species that play no role in our imagination so few of the general public give a second thought to their protection.
In 2017, Sudan joined Tinder. This radical move was an attempt by conservationists to raise awareness and money to protect him. With a little imagination we can develop novel, interesting means of educating and funding conservation efforts without selling an animal’s life. The idea worked! Hours after his profile went live, the fundraising page which it linked to crashed from thousands of views. Sudan’s sad death this year was from age-related problems. That he could be protected long enough that his death came from natural causes.
The main thing that this story makes me wonder is: what are our priorities? We happily forget about the incredible extinction rate that we are responsible for until some beautiful, iconic species loses a final individual (usually named: Sudan the rhino, Lonesome George). Cecil the Lion caused controversy due to his iconic status, though he was not the last of his species. It’s no surprise that our minds cannot be constantly on such difficult and unpleasant topics but perhaps a little more consciousness would encourage us to take steps before it is too late, whether this means we recycle more, use a little less power, or do a little research into the most environmentally friendly products to buy.
As long as Sudan is the poster-animal for conservation, we in the West will continue to see it as some far-away issue that we can do little about other than donate money. Instead perhaps we should remember the beauty of even the tiniest creature. Go bird-watching, take a walk, even just sit outside for a moment. Take time to appreciate the beauty of the World around you everyday and perhaps those little actions to help protect it will become more common practice too!