|Photo credit: Elodie A. Sampere, Getty Images|
Suni, a 34 year old male northern white rhinoceros, died on October 17, 2014 of natural causes. His death reduced the total number of known northern white rhinos to an alarming six individuals, which has brought his species one step closer to extinction.1
Suni was born in a zoo in the Czech Republic and was the first of his kind to be born in captivity. Unfortunately, northern rhinos are a finicky species when it comes to breeding and with increasing pressures from poaching, it became critical to provide the animals with a natural, comfortable space.
As a result in 2009, Suni and three others were transported to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in East Africa. It was believed this change in scenery would most accurately imitate their natural environment.2 Rhino conservationists anticipated that the rhinos would then breed naturally and provide a healthy calf that would bring new hope for the waning species.
Even before these desperate attempts to keep the species going however, the history of the northern rhino has been a sad one. At the time of Suni’s birth, his species was on a very slow rebound. Northern white rhinos had been excessively poached for their horns, and their initial population of over 2,000 animals declined to a shocking 15 rhinos by the late ’80s. Conservation efforts were ramped up in the ’90s and it looked as though the animals were making a gradual comeback. Unbelievably, poachers also increased their efforts and knocked the numbers back down to below 10 individuals by the mid-2000s.3
Northern white rhinos were declared extinct in the wild by 2008.
The likelihood that Suni’s species will become extinct in our lifetime has increased significantly with his death. And although the Ol Pejeta Conservancy will continue trying until the bitter end with the use of techniques such as artificial insemination, the precarious position the northern white rhino is in, as stated in their press release, is “a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.” 1
The extinction of such a charismatic species is a tragedy and should bring awareness to how heavily humans really affect our environments. Although the northern white rhino may be on the brink of extinction, there are still a countless number of other species out there that need our help. It is up to us to work together in order to keep other species as far from the fate of the northern rhino as possible.
1Ol Pejeta Conservancy press release - http://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/about/news/breaking-news-ol-pejeta-conservancy-loses-one-its-northern-white-rhinos
2Northern white rhino conservation project - http://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/sites/default/files/NWR_FAQ_FINAL.pdf
3WWF profile of the northern white rhinoceros - http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/rhinoceros/african_rhinos/white_rhinoceros/