The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is deeply saddened to hear that the northern white rhino is teetering on the edge of extinction. With the death of the last remaining male rhino yesterday, this subspecies is all but gone due to poaching. This is just another tragic reminder of how culpable humans are for the loss of the world’s most charismatic wildlife, and that we all must become global stewards for Africa.
The 45-year-old rhino named Sudan recently developed a recurring infection on his right rear leg despite 24-hour care by veterinarians at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He was surrounded by nonstop ranger surveillance since rhino horn is targeted by the illegal wildlife trade bound for Asia. Sudan lived with the last two female northern white rhinos who were unfortunately incapable of natural reproduction, and Sudan’s sperm count was too low to reproduce due to his age.
“Sudan's death is a tragic example of Africa losing its heritage. How did we get here? How will we explain this to the next generation of Africans,” asked Kaddu Sebunya, African Wildlife Foundation’s President. “This is a wake-up call for us. We are confronting species extinction on our watch. It is a bigger question of how we manage our heritage.”
“Can you imagine a world without rhinos,” asked Dr. Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation’s Vice President of Species Protection. “This is a major symbol of Africa. Who should be crying at the moment about this news? It should be the whole of Africa. This animal might be representative of others to come. In the last seven years, the western black rhino was also declared extinct. What is the aspiration of Africa for other species of rhino?”
We should never allow population numbers to get this low for any animal, let alone one as iconic as the rhino, Philip adds. “We need to support large viable populations in their natural habitat, so that if there’s disease or a catastrophe, the animals can still bounce back,” he said. “If we’re losing these animals that are very visible, what about those that we can’t see, like key pollinators? They must be going extinct without anyone really noticing.”
Although the news may seem grim, wildlife can be brought back from the brink of extinction with collective action. Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are currently listed as critically endangered, but they’re the only great ape whose population is actually increasing from conservation efforts, to the point that AWF recently supported their habitat expansion in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The eastern black rhino numbers hover at around 1,000 individuals, so Philip worries that they could be the next subspecies to go extinct. Because of this, it’s a priority for AWF to support the rhino conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, and other locations across Africa to counteract those shrinking numbers.
“What has been the collective action by Africa and the world to save this species,” asked Philip. “The time is now to do something about this crisis, before it’s too late.”
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