Today I sit here stunned into tears by the announcement that the Western Black Rhino has officially been declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With the addition that the subspecies of White Rhino in Central Africa and the Northern White Rhino have been listed as possibly extinct in the wild. As if that weren’t enough it’s also thought that the Java Rhino is now probably extinct in Vietnam after the last animal succumbed to poachers in 2010. Although not all hope is lost for the wild Java Rhino as a small yet dwindling population still resides on the Island of Java, Indonesia.
"Human beings are stewards of the earth, and we are responsible for protecting the species that share our environment," says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. "In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented. These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhino’s from facing extinction."
"We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever," says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Program.
A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos, and increasingly illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.
Historically this rare subspecies of Black Rhino lived across the savanna belt of Western Africa but in recent years Cameroon became it’s last remaining habitat. Heavily hunted at the beginning of the 20th century the Western Black Rhino population began to steadily decline until the 1930's when the population increased slightly as preservation action was taken. However as protection efforts declined over the years so did the number of Western Black Rhinos and by 1980 the population was estimated to be in the mere hundreds. Poaching continued and by the year 2000 only an estimated 10 had survived. Illegal poaching, limited anti-poaching laws and the failure of courts to hand down sentences to punish poachers all contributed to the Western Black Rhino’s demise. There are no Western Black Rhinos known to be in captivity.
The Black Rhino is hunted almost exclusively for it’s horns which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are said by herbalists to be able to revive comatose patients, cure fevers and aid male sexual stamina and fertility. Claims that have never been proven or confirmed by medical science. Another major market for the sale or rhino horns is the Middle East, where the horns are used to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. Demands for these daggers exploded in the 1970's causing the Black Rhino population to decline 96% between 1970-1992.
This is a sad day indeed for all animal lovers, naturalists, conservationists, and compassionate human beings. Though I’ve read article upon article presenting me with the same information I still find this news hard to digest. How can so many subspecies of an animal as magnificent and majestic as the Rhino be extinct or so near extinction? I know the statistics of course, I’m well aware that the rate of extinction is currently estimated at 27,000 species per year. Most of which is due to deforestation, destruction of rainforests, and other habitat loss. I know that the rate of species extinction is rapidly rising and that it’s estimated that within the next 100 years 30% of all the worlds animals and plants could be extinct. I know this, and because I know this I feel as though I shouldn’t be so shocked. Maybe it’s naivety, but I never truly thought I would see an animal as massive and iconic as the Black Rhino go extinct in my lifetime.
The words extinct and extinction are very powerful, and everyone knows their meaning to be ‘No longer in existence,’ but I think far to often we attribute these words to long ago beings like the dinosaurs, or the dodo, rather then those creatures we have grown up knowing and hearing about. It’s almost as if the majority of us don’t consider the word extinction to be relevant to the present, when in fact it’s more relevant now then ever before. We are losing species upon species, many of whom are virtually unknown and unstudied, at an astounding rate and many of us it seems can hardly be bothered to bat an eyelash in concern. The diversity of our eco-system and wildlife is the single most important thing to humanities continued survival as a species, yet we treat everything around us with ignorant disdain and disregard.
I want so badly to believe in the innate goodness of humankind. I want to believe in the ability of good to triumph over evil, but on days like this I find my hope falters. With every person I see toss a water bottle onto the ground, drive a gas guzzler, kill a bee, or simply turn a blind and uncaring eye away from a monumental news story like this I feel the hope inside me grow smaller. I don’t want to believe that the average person is unkind or callous but on days like this I can’t help but wonder why? Why was nothing done? Why were no voices heard? Why did we sit back and do nothing? Human greed, ignorance, and a lack of education are the only things I can think of, but if those are truly the reasons I don’t feel as though that leaves us with a very positive outlook about our future. Human greed is a raging fire we seem incapable of snuffing out, and human ignorance is just as strong. Today I feel as though all the kindness and compassion in the world are not enough to fan this fire, but my husband begs me not to give up, or to loose hope. If we give up then they win. He is right of course. Even in these darkest moments we can not despair.
Though my heart is breaking with the sadness of this latest crushing blow to our planet, I feel more strongly then ever about the rightness of the path I’ve chosen for myself. I am more determined then ever before to spread as much information to as many people as possible. I believe without a doubt that education is the key. The more people you and I can educate about what is truly going on in the world and of how our actions or inactions can effect and promote negative reactions across the globe, the more hope there’ll be. With every individual voice that rises up, our collective voice will only grow stronger until it becomes so strong that it can not be ignored.
Gandhi said "Be The Change You Want To See In The World." So I ask you now, to please be that change. Be that change and live that change everyday. Inform yourself and others, and live your values without refrain or apology. Consider every moment an opportunity to promote change, and don’t despair or loose hope. Standup for yourselves, for those around you, for all the creatures that share this world with us. We were meant to be the stewards of this world, the protectors, not the destroyers of it. So stand up and let your voices be heard.
For more information - http://www.iucnredlist.org/news/another-leap-towards-the-barometer-of-life
*** All images acquired from Google Images.***