It’s not front page news – the Occupy efforts, Rick Perry’s debate flubs and Black Friday “pushed up a day early” are the topics of the day – but the Western black rhino of Africa has been officially declared extinct.
The announcement was made by The International Union for Conservation of Nature, who also noted that the Northern white rhino of central Africa is possibly extinct, and the Javan rhino in Vietnam is gone as well. Apparently poachers killed the last Javan rhino in 2010. I’ve always followed the woes of the animal world, so I know that at one time a single rhinoceros horn was worth twenty-four grand in Hong Kong, where it’s ground down and used for “medicinal purposes.”
The disadvantage to supporting animal causes is the endless reminders that no matter how much money I contribute (and my donations are modest), the wrenching tales of tragedy never end. If I don’t read about it in the newspaper, I’ll find out about it in my mailbox. Reports flow in about African tigers kept as pets and chained in tiny cages, emaciated burros on the verge of starvation and Nevada ranchers shooting wild horses and leaving them to die. I slog through the gloomy reports, driven by my stubborn conviction that paying attention to what imperils animals and the environment is a function of respect. The planet sustains me: The least I can do is stop for a few minutes and focus on what we’ve lost. Not that it will stop a merchant in another country from peddling the hacked-off body part of a magnificent animal.
Given the abundance of bad news in the animal kingdom, the stories of small victories are always that much more gratifying. I learned that parrots are social animals that thrive best in flocks, so I silently cheered when I read how an Amazon parrot, languishing alone in a Nebraska pet store, was rescued and placed with other captive parrots. There was a time when I drafted letters to members of Congress on a regular basis, asserting my support for various wildlife causes. Then I stopped and started increasing my contributions to environmental organizations. I thought they might have more clout than the politicians and that the battery of scientists and attorneys they employ would have a better chance at sweeping in like the cavalry to save the world.
But in the case of the black rhino, no cavalry came to the rescue, and the poachers have won. The International Union for Conservation of Nature notes that the “lack of political support and willpower for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, and organized crime groups” have sealed its fate.
Years ago my children loved a pop-up book called, “What’s in the Jungle,” because a different, colorful animal would pop out at them every time they turned a page. I’ve often wished our lives could be that wonderful, whimsical place where people and animals live together peacefully, with mutual respect. We could wear khakis and hang out with lions, gazelles and rhinos. Our lives would be like one giant pop-up book.
Black rhinos, rest in peace.