In Brief
  • Thanks to humans, the Northern White Rhino is on the verge of extinction.
  • Thousands of these animals used to roam free, there are now only 3 left on planet Earth.

There is a difference between extinction that occurs as a result of gradual changes in the biosphere and extinction that occurs as a result of human activity. The former is a slow process, one that takes many generations. Since it is such a slow process, other species have time to adapt, to find other sources of food. The latter is quick, and can happen in just a decade (or less). And, because it happens so rapidly, it often significantly disrupts (and even destroys) local habitats.

Enter the Northern White Rhino.

We have witnessed species after species fall to extinction. In 2013, the latest review of animals and plants by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that the Western Black rhino had been totally wiped out. But we saw that coming. Things weren’t looking too good for those rhinos for quite some time. By 1980, the population was estimated to be in the hundreds. By 2000, only 10 were surviving. And in 2006, a survey of the last remaining habitat failed to find any Western black rhinos.

Now, it seems that the Northern white rhino is about to fall over the brink.

Though they used to roam in large numbers across Africa, the rhino population has declined dramatically due to human encroachment and poaching. In the 1960s, there were more than 2,000 northern white rhinos (these numbers weren’t promising, but they were something). However, by 1984, only about 15 individuals were surviving in the wild. Unfortunately, the decrease in the population has not altered the attitudes of many who wish to use the rhino horns for herbal medicine and other crafts, and poaching continues to be a major detriment.

In 2013, on the streets, rhino horn went for about $65,000 per kg.

rhino
Image credit: Ol Pejeta

Back in 2015, zookeepers announced that there were only 3 northern white rhinos left in all the world. This news came as a result of the death of Nabiré, a 41-year-old female rhino who was living in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. The zookeepers asserted that she passed due to a ruptured cyst, which was too large to treat.

Přemysl Rabas, the director of the zoo, said in a statement, “It is a terrible loss. Nabiré was the kindest rhino ever bred in our zoo. It is not just that we were very fond of her. Her death is a symbol of the catastrophic decline of rhinos due to a senseless human greed. Her species is on the very brink of extinction.” In response to the continued decline of the white rhino,  Ol Pejeta Conservancy, had this to say. “The species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.”

However, there is some hope, as conservationists think that they can make a viable embryo by harvesting eggs from Nabiré’s ovary. However, the chances of success are slim.

The Human Problem.

Though some extinction is natural, the process that we are currently witnessing is fueled by human actions. In the Americas, 80% of large animals became extinct around the same time that the first Western humans arrived. Of course, many species went extinct before humans arrived, but (as the previous statistic indicates) we have caused those numbers to skyrocket through deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change, and overhunting (among other things). Where rhinos are concerned, we are not talking about a naturally occurring process. This is notable, as ecosystems evolve slowly over time, forming a community that is linked by a number of tendrils. The biosphere is complex, and, if any of these tendrils snap, it could have a plethora of unforeseen (and rather negative) consequences.

A general ecological rule is: That which increases diversity is good; that which decreases it is bad.

Thus, this human-fueled mass extinction event is quite bad (hello, understatement of the year) and not at all beneficial to the biosphere as a whole.

Portions of this article were borrowed from a previous article on the same topic.