It has been few hours since the death of Sudan in Kenya struck the world.
Now, let’s keep it clear – this is not about the Sudan or even about South Sudan – the poorest and probably most unstable country in Africa, the international news has been focusing on since the 2011-2013 protests. Close, but not really. This is not even about Kenya – a country especially close to my heart, where “the sad news” comes from today…
Conservation Project, Botswana 2014
This is a discussion about the rhinos – majestic creatures running down the extiction path that is largely due to human interference but that is jeopardizing the future of humankind at the same time.
Five years ago, at 14, I travelled by myself to Botswana to work in the middle of savannah, at a wildlife reserve no one knew about. I took care of a 2-months-old baby rhino, while also collecting snares which trapped his mom so she can be slaughtered for valuable horns. Just like many people around me I saw that there was a problem, yet back then I couldn’t understand what it really was. Now, as I am writing this article, like many others I realize that this discussion has come too late.
Sundan, whose death earlier today the world is now passionately discussing, was the last male northern white rhino alive on our planet. Put to sleep at the age of 45 at 2:00 pm tonight, after months of poor health, Sudan has left only two females – his daughter and granddaughter – of the subspecies alive in the world.
“His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him,” said Jan Stejskal, an official at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan had lived until 2009, in an interview for BBC today.
But apart from being sad, why is this news alarming and so important? Rhinoceros – of which there are five species – are the keystone species in their environments. That means, not only are they important for keeping the populations of other animals in check but they are crucial for functioning of the entire ecosystems. Research (by Scandinavian and South African researchers in the Journal of Ecology) indicates that areas with higher rhino population have 20 times more grazing areas which supply food not just for rhinos, but for zebra, gazelle and antelope. But this is not just about ecosystem diversity and dynamics.
“We can only hope that the world learns from the sad loss of Sudan and takes every measure to end all trade in rhino horn, ” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “While prices of rhino horn are falling in China and Vietnam, poaching for horn still threatens all rhino species.”
Rhinos affect the balance in human population, in the economy and global trade. This is not just about taking care of the planet, it is about keeping lives alive. Keeping wildlife alive for the next generations and for the current ones as well. Behind each rhino killed due to poaching, there is an average of three people dead in the process of smuggling and trading of ivory, and slaughtering the animal. For many people today, ivory crime is the only way of providing food and aid to their families that live below the poverty line – 1.9 $ /day as according to the 2015 Report by the World Bank.
“This is more than just another sad animal story. This is a story of us,” said activist Ed Yong.
Sudan, who was the equivalent of 90 in human years, was the last surviving male of the rarest rhino variety after the natural death of a second male in late 2014.
Rhinos I took care of during my alone travel to Botswana and work at a wildlife reserve in 2014
According to CNN, The subspecies’ population in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad was largely wiped out during the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Poaching was fuelled by demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen.
The last few dozen wild northern white rhinos in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been killed by the early 2000s. By 2008, the northern white rhino was considered extinct in the wild, according to WWF, the global environment campaign.
Poaching is fueling global markets, it constitutes an outlet for employment, it lays the foundations of economy in many African nations.
These maps helped us track the poachers in the area of the unfenced reserve and to determine the spots where snares were set up most frequently to cath animals – among them, rhinos.
Given the experiences I’ve had in various parts of the African continent, I see the current status of “poaching management” and tied species extiction as going bakwards in terms of the development plans and the Millenium Goals set by the United Nations in 2000.
Attention ought to be focused for us to prevent the process, not only to respond to its results – curing of the problem, not just treating its symptoms is the ultimate goal.
Poaching as a powerful force of supply and demand is not a way to go and it is certainly not a way out for African and global communties. There has to be a stop sign to this path and it cannot come from just one side, from just one view, or from just a single case like this. Poaching is a global problem and should be solved – no longer managed – as such.
“One day, Sudan’s demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.” – said the representative of Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
After the news about Sudan’s death this afternoon went viral, the environmental activists spoke up on a number of conferences around the globe, including in Nairobi, Kenya’s capitol city.
In many wildlife reserves in Africa, each and every rhinoceros has his own guard designated to protect the animal from human danger. Guards watch the animal 24/7, have to remain in full armour and are set for for 2 shifts a day, seven days a week.
I have travelled to Kenya few years ago to both explore the country’s wildlife and to learn about the complexity of the issues environmental conservation apprach has to face in Africa and beyond. Since, I have gotten involved in work with the amazing Environmental and Conservation Science Tuli Team at Kwa Tuli Wildlife reserve in Botswana and South Africa. For couple of years now, remaining active in this field has not only provided me with much knowledge but also inspiration and hope for getting things better. Instances like the one today, teach me however that there is so much more to learn and even more to do.
Believe me, we as the people, together have power to bring on change with our small daily activities that is greater than one a single most powerful politician can excercise.
Does it have to cost much? Money – no. Effort – yes.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world”
Since many of you have been asking about the ways you can help make things better and involve in both social and environmental projects that make difference in the world and don’t cost you fortune, the next article will be just that!!