Why the death of a rhino matters

I never got to meet Sudan. The rhino Sudan, that is. Nor did I ever get to see a male northern white rhino in the wild. A few days ago, as Sudan passed away in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, this sub-species is now facing extinction.

Technically, Sudan was not the very last northern white rhino. His daughter and granddaughter is still alive, but without a chance to pass their unique genes on to another generation. Five years ago the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared another rhino sub-species extinct: the western black rhino. No one had seen one for almost ten years, but these things take time to verify. So that’s two african rhino sub-species forever wiped off the face of the earth in a matter of a few years.

The rhinos in the image above are southern white rhinos photographed in an undisclosed location in South Africa. The female at the back survived a poaching attack some years ago.

Sudan’s death is, although caused by illness, a sad reminder of the cruel poaching going on in Africa. A wide range of species is being targeted for various incomprehensible reasons and rhinos are amongst the worst affected. In South Africa alone, home to a majority of the world’s remaining wild rhinos, one individual is lost to poachers’ bullets every 8-10 hours. A simple calculation will tell you that unless we see a dramatic change very soon, there will be no wild rhinos left a decade from now.

I have seen the massacre these unscrupulous killers leave behind and it is not a pretty sight, the horns often brutally hacked off animals that might still have been struggling for their lives at the time. I will spare you the ugliest pictures but believe me: they are grim. Instead, here is a short video clip from a recent poaching incident in Pilanesberg where a female and a calf were found dead on a road I often travel on my game drives in the area. The poachers escaped with unfinished business, so the horns were left on the animals making it even more meaningless.

Speaking of meaningless, there is absolutely no argument here: rhino horns have no use to anyone but the rhino. Period. There is no medicinal value in the horns. None. It is basically the same protein, keratin, we have in our own hair and nails. Despite this, there is a big market for rhino horn in countries such as China and Vietnam with little or no help offered from the governments of these countries to combat the poaching in Africa.

Rest assured that this topic will feature again in this blog. Until then I extend my wishes that Sudan is in a happier place now and that his death will help raise awareness against poaching. It is long overdue.

Here are a few links, should you want to engage against rhino poaching:
International Rhino Foundation
Stop Rhino Poaching
Save the Rhino

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Andreas Karlsson

Journalist, author, photographer and safari guide. Read more about Andreas here.