Written by Josephine Walbank |
Across the globe wildlife populations are declining at an unprecedented rate. Species are going extinct every day without us even realising it. On the 19th March 2018 however, the world got a glimpse of extinction first hand, as we lost Sudan, the last male northern white rhino.
The financial incentives creating a demand for rhino horns comes largely from Asian countries, such as China and Vietnam, where they have been used historically for traditional medicine. The northern white rhino is one of five species of rhinoceroses, and is a species which has been around for millions of years. In 2011 the western black rhino was declared extinct, also as a result of poaching, and currently all five of the remaining species are rhino are classified as threatened.
I spoke to two zoology students from the University of Exeter, Hannah Pollock and Jamie Unwin, who were lucky enough to work with the rangers in Kenya and meet Sudan before he passed.
Hannah: “I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity of seeing Sudan just a few weeks ago. I had been working closely with the staff at Ol Pejeta in Kenya, and I knew that he was very ill. Words can’t describe the heart-wrenching pain that I felt knowing that this would most likely be the first and last time I would see him.
Sudan was an extremely gentle and charismatic individual. Born in 1973 in South Sudan, he was taken from the wild to live a life of captivity in the Czech Republic. As the number of northern white rhinos plummeted, in 2009 he was moved to Kenya where it was hoped that a more natural environment would induce more successful breeding. It was here that he lived out the rest of his days in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. He leaves behind just two females, his daughter Najin, 28, and granddaughter, Fatu, 17—the last of their kind on Earth.
Sadly both of these females are now infertile, but Scientists are hoping that in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) could save this rhino subspecies from extinction. Semen from Sudan has been collected along with two other deceased males. It is hoped that with eggs collected from Najin and Fatu, a female southern white rhino can serve as the surrogate mother to give birth to another northern white rhino. This is an extremely controversial procedure. On the one hand human activity is the cause of this species’ demise, therefore surely it should be our responsibility to do everything we can to bring it back? Yet on the other hand, it is argued that this is an extremely costly, – predictions are that it will cost around $9 million – time consuming procedure and nobody is sure whether or not it will even work. Scientists are working on perfecting the technology so only time will tell as to whether there is any future for the northern white rhino.
Throughout all of this my sympathy and admiration must go out to Sudan’s rangers. Individuals who have dedicated their entire lives to protecting him. I’ve spent the last 5 months in Kenya leading my ‘Stand Up for Nature’ project. During this time, I have met and worked alongside a number of incredible people who are doing everything they can to make a difference and prevent this from happening to other species. I’ve been documenting their stories and trying to find out what it is that makes them different and gives them the determination to keep on fighting. It is these people who offer us hope for the future, but we need everyone to work together if we are to save the future of our wildlife”.
Hannah and Jamie together founded ‘Stand Up for Nature’, a grass roots organization who work to ‘empower organizations and communities in developing countries by producing inspiring local language films’, and then use a bicycle powered cinema, which was designed and built by Jamie, so that these films can be shown all over the world to people living in remote areas. Their project in Kenya involved filming people who had worked extraordinarily hard to protect their wildlife, which they hope will inspire others to do the same.
Jamie: “Just a few weeks ago, I was very privileged to meet Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on this planet. He was very ill when we got to see him and I can’t quite explain what it was like seeing him and knowing when he was gone there would be no more male northern white rhinos.
I feel incredibly privileged that I was able to meet him in his last few moments but also very saddened at the thought that it is us as humans that has made this happen. But there are some incredible humans who are doing everything they can to stop this from happening to further species, and during our stand up for nature project in Kenya we met so many of these people and these are the people who offer us so much hope.
I think for the vast majority of people who are affected by Sudan’s death, they feel helpless and very much disconnected from his death. But I wouldn’t say that those are reasons to think that your actions can’t have a positive effect on the world. More than ever we need the British public to show that they care about these issues and when there is a collective mass, that message becomes very clear. So then the people who can help those that are best placed to make a difference to species like the northern white rhino, know where to focus their attention or rally up more support. We have seen this happen with the recent attention drawn to plastic pollution in our oceans”.
Credit to Hannah Pollock for all of the associated images
For more information about their work, visit Hannah and Jamie’s website: http://www.standupfornature.org/