Saying Goodbye

There’s one thing to be said about our impact on the planet: we fucked it up.

We got creative, too.

There are giant islands of plastic floating in the oceans. We’ve turned up the thermostat so much that the ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates. And we kill, oh man do we kill.

We kill for sport. We kill for medicine. We kill for fun. We kill to the point of extinction.

And yesterday, one species got a little bit closer to death.

The last male northern white rhino was euthanized yesterday due to his declining health. He was 45.

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino.

On the face of it, Sudan’s death doesn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, there’s another species of rhino, the southern white rhino, who’s doing just fine. At last count, the southern white rhino’s population was over 17,400. So why is losing the northern white rhino such a big deal?

Because we fucked up. It’s our fault. We let poachers go into a war-torn region and kill and murder animals for their own personal gain with no repercussions for years and years. When we finally decided to do something about it, it was too late.

Many people tried to help the northern white rhino. A park was created in Zaire (now the DR Congo), Garamba, almost specifically to help keep the northern white’s in one place, making it difficult for poachers to get in and kill them for their prized horn. Individuals rushed through Africa trying to educate local populations on the dangers of poaching, the wonders of the rhino, and the importance of conservation.

Douglas Adams, an often unsung hero of the conservation movement, even went to Kenya with a giant rhino suit, traveling from village to village educating isolated tribes.

Douglas Adams (left) recalls the rhino expedition in Kenya and how absolutely terrible the suit was to wear.

In his 1989 radio broadcast (and subsequent book by the same name) Last Chance to See, Adams talks about his trip to see the northern white rhino: how difficult an expedition it was, both physically and mentally, and how awesome it was finally seeing a rhino in person. I recently watched the 2009 TV serial Last Chance to See where Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine retrace the steps Carwardine and Adams did two decades prior, checking in on the animals that were so close to death. Sadly, the case of the northern white rhino has only grown dimmer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to continue seeing species die off because of our own inaction. Learning about animal conservation and conservation efforts is the first step in understanding what you can do to help. Because that’s what these animals need: help.

If you need a jumping off point, read Last Chance to See. Find a story that makes your heart hurt. For me, that’s bats. White nose syndrome is sweeping across the US, leaving millions of dead bats in its wake. Why do bats matter? Let me count the ways. If the inclination strikes you, donate to Bat Conservation International. Anything helps.

Don’t care to much about our flying mammal friends? Then find an animal you’re passionate about. Find a cause. There are plenty of them. Don’t let what happened to the northern white rhino happen again. Maybe, just maybe, with your help, we can do something to reverse the mass extinction that’s occurring right in front of us.

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