The penultimate male member of a species of white rhinoceros died a few weeks ago and the outlook for the species looks grim. Suni, a 34-year-old Northern African white rhinoceros died of natural causes in the Ol Pejeta conservatory in Kenya. There are now only six Northern rhinos left in the world of which only one is a male. Suni died without breeding and the subspecies is now considered to be “basically extinct” by Stuart Pimm a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. With the loss of Suni the chances for the species are very slim. The decline of the species is due largely to the endemicity of rhino poaching as a result of the use for of the rhino horn for its supposed medicinal purposes. The Northern white rhino has also been unfortunate enough to be caught up in the political turmoil the occurred and is still occurring in Central Africa. The loss of this subspecies represents a larger problem than just the decline of the magnificent and charismatic species, it is a suggestive of a general decline in megafauna in the southern and central african regions. The large animals in those regions fill a distinct and necessary ecological role and their loss will have great effects on the ecological systems in the regions. However, if scientists cannot breed the remaining northern rhino with the any of the remaining females they will try and breed him with the more prolific if still near threatened southern white rhino subspecies.
The threat to this subspecies speaks to the larger threat of poaching of these animals. The horn, purported to be and sold as everything from a cancer cure to an aphrodisiac is worth more per gram than gold, heroin, or cocaine, and the rhino is one of the most poached animals in the world. Due to the incredible value of the rhino horn, the people who illicitly kill these rhinos are often better equipped and certainly better paid than those trying to protect the species. Poaching is so prolific that it is estimated a rhino is killed every eleven hours. The government trying to protect these animals are fighting an uphill battle against an opponent with helicopters, guns, lots of money, and very few morals. Rhinos sighting at game reserves cannot be called in on the radio for fear of poachers overhearing communications and intercepting the animal. The fundamental change that needs to take place is not a shift in tactics but rather a shift in education in the nations consuming the product.
“More Precious than Gold, Heroin, Cocaine: Rhino Horn.” Daily Herald. Daily Herald, 13 July 2014. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140713/business/140719869/>.