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The northern white rhino
Facts on the northern white rhino
Did you know that the white rhino is the third largest African animal (after the elephant and hippo) and weighs between 1,700 and 2,400 kg? The white rhinos are not actually white, but grey. The confusion results from a misinterpretation of the Dutch word ‘wijde’ (meaning wide, not white), used to describe the rhino’s mouth. The wide mouth is an adaptation that helps them graze on grass, as opposed to the black rhino’s pointed mouth, which is adapted for browsing on leaves, shoots and branches. Rhino horn is used in traditional Asian medicines and to demonstrate social status [1].


Contents

Extent of problem

Northern White Rhinos. By Lengai101 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0

The northern white rhino is one of the subspecies to the white rhino. The northern white rhino is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list over threatened species [2]. The subspecies is extinct due to being wiped out in their natural habitat of Sudan, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Uganda, by poachers [3]. After decades of being hunted and killed by poachers for their horns, Sudan, the last male Rhino surviving, until his death on March 19, was a part of an effort to save the subspecies from extinction, with help from his daughter and granddaughter. With the passing of the last exciting male northern white rhino, the species faith now lies in the hands of the last two remaining female northern white rhinos [4]. After the mass wipe out of the northern white rhino the last existing ones were relocated to a zoo in the Czech Republic and later shipped to Kenya, in the hopes that the African Soil would make it easier for the northern white rhinos to breed [3]. The last two remaining northern white rhinos now live at Ol Petjeta Conservancy in Kenya, which is a private reserve with the purpose of protecting wildlife from poachers – especially rhinos and elephants – where the animals are under protection 24/7 by armed guards [5]. It was also here Sudan lived prior to his death [6]. One might think that with the death of the last surviving male northern white rhino, there is no hope for the subspecies. This might not necessarily be the case in this situation. Sudan, along with other dead northern white rhino males will still contribute to saving the subspecies. The semen from dead northern white rhinos have been stored, along with eggs extracted from the last to remaining females. The subspecies survival now lies in the hand of in vitro fertilization techniques (IVF), meaning that attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies will hopefully happen in the future, with genetic materials from dead northern white rhinos [4]. As the last two remaining females are unable to conceive naturally, due to medical conditions [7], other methods need to be taking into use if the subspecies should be saved from extinction. The extracted eggs from the two remaining females, and semen from dead males, will be inseminated in southern white rhino females, who will hereby act as a surrogate for the northern white rhino [4]. The method is the only way for their lineage to survive, and if it doesn’t work, it will be difficult saving the northern white rhino from extinction.

Evidence for the problem

As mentioned above, the northern white rhino is facing the threat of extinction. Except for natural factors, the main factors that increase their process of extinction are anthropic factors.

Reason 1

Poachers hunt them to make a lucrative score, and humans destroys their habitat.
In the 1970s and 1980s the act of poaching crisis took hold mainly due to the increasing demand for the rhino horns in Asian countries. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people believe the powdered horn can be used to treat a range of diseases, such as fever, rheumatism, and gout. At the same time, rhino horns are also used as a cure for hangover and other ailments in Vietnam. Therefore, rhino horns are regarded as a luxury herb. Yemeni dagger handles and Vietnam high-status gifts are also triggering a widespread demand for northern white rhinos. This leads to the number of northern white rhino decreasing sharply. What’s more, they even became extinct in Uganda, Central Africa Republic, Sudan, and Chad [2]. The poachers are killing the rhinos for their horns, mainly because they are so poor they need money to survive.
The Congolese Civil War lasted for four years, which made the Garamba National Park become the center area. At that time, harvesting ivory and rhino horn apparently became a good way to raise fund for those insurgents. Armed conflict across Central Africa in the 1970s and early 1980s wiped out most of the remaining northern white rhinos except for a small population in Garamba National Park during the Congolese Civil War [1]. After this turbulent time, the northern white rhinos in that range went nearly extinct. Certainly, we all know that when human begin to pollute the environment, we are destroying the habitats for all species.

Reason 2

Two attempts were made to try and relocate animals to safer countries in Africa to create a second, back-up breeding population.
Although these two great chances for the local government to transfer those northern white rhinos to another safer country in Africa, they failed. The first attempt came out in 1995, and government tried here to move the rhinos from the national park Garamba, which is located in Orientale Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, to another African country. This attempt was provided by the NWR’s (Namibia Wildlife Resort) and it included that two zoo’s, Dvur in the Czech Republic and San Diego in the U.S. should sent their animals to join them. However, those two zoos changed their mind, as they did not want to move their animals, and the plan failed [2].
The second one was published in 2005, and here the Congolese government agreed to send four or five northern white rhinos from Garamba National Park to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. However, the plan did not go well because of the disagreement which was put forward by a disaffected former Garamba employee and stirred up regional dissent. Not long after this event, the government changed its mind, which meant they missed the last chance to create a breeding population of northern white rhino [2].

Reason 3

The last rhinos have difficulty breeding. Artificial breeding technology is immature, and a lot of money is needed.
As there were only three of them remaining on the planet, scientists put their efforts to attempt the breeding between Sudan and the last two remaining females in the past, but without any results. The main reason is that Sudan was too old to breed, and that he had a low sperm count. Another reason is that there is also a difficulty for the remaining female rhinos to reproduce. Fatu is not fertile, and Najin had not been able to withstand the hardship of breeding attempts [8]. Unfortunately, Sudan died on March 19, which made the reproduction even harder.
Now, an international project is using IVF and stem-cell technology in an attempt to resurrect the species. Under this circumstance, there are also questions and criticisms [7]. On the one hand, most scientists support this program because they believe it is better than do nothing. Once successful, it can be used on other endangered species. On the other hand, opponents insist that IVF has risk and costs much. Just like Susie Ellis (2016) said, no one has ever successfully used IVF on any rhino species [9]. IVF requires specific conditions to mimic the uterine environment, and it will take a lot of time and enormous funding to perfect the methodology. Although she believes that we have to take a multifaceted approach to save them, and high technology is one of them, she cannot ignore the risk that IVF brings in front of us. Meanwhile, as the critics are pointing out, the government and zoos cannot afford vast sums to get involved in this program. In their opinions, if we cannot find the cause of its extinction, it is a waste to try to restore the species. Until now, this program goes on slowly, and no significant results have been achieved.

Categories of actors

Positive actors affected

There are categories of actors who has been positively affected and some who has been negatively affected from the northern white rhino and its evolution. As written before, the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 80s, fueled by demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine in Asia and dagger handles in Yemen, wiped out the northern white rhino populations in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad [10]. The illegal wildlife trade has become a high-profile issue all over the world, and the poaching, to get the horn from the rhinos, have had a negative effect on the northern white rhino, as they were killed just for their horns. Because of the globalization, the wildlife trade has become much easier, and that’s one of the primary reasons to why local people and poachers make a lot of money selling rhino horns.
The ones that might have been positively affected from the killing of the northern white rhino, is the local people who are making money by doing so. For the rhino’s own safety, some national parks removed the rhinos horn, just to prevent poachers from killing them. Rhino’s horn can cost up to $65.000 a kilo and can be more expensive than gold [11].

Rhinos are better de-horned than dead. By Derek Keats via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0.

Negative actors affected

The negatively affected actor is the northern white rhino and the ecosystem. There are many people in the world who speaks on behalf of the rhinos and their rights. Just to name some of them, Fauna & Flora International, who is dedicated to protecting our plant’s threatened wildlife and habitats. There are also Facebook groups who fight for the rights of rhinos. Another actor that’s been negatively affected is the savanna ecosystem. The removal of a species from an ecosystem can be catastrophic. One example that underlines this is the Yellowstone wolves. When they were removed from this place, the deer population exploded, which in turn meant that plant populations declined. Researchers are increasingly realizing that removal of species from their ecosystems can have devastating impacts. The northern white rhino eats plants, as they are grazers. They put pressure on different plant communities, as they are stepping on them. One might argue that they work as lawn mowers [12]. What will it mean for the African savannah if the northern white rhino is going to be totally extinct? The landscape can suffer if the northern white rhino becomes totally extinct. It can be threatening to the savanna’s ecosystem dynamics and functioning. There is a lot of research that suggests that grazers are really important for maintaining diversity, as well as the coexistence of trees and grasses, by creating a shifting patch mosaic on the landscape [13]. If the northern white rhino species dies, the ecosystem on the savannah will suffer greatly.
As the northern white rhino is under protection 24-hours by armed guards, another actor who is negatively affected by the animal’s extinction is emerging. They work all hours of day protecting wildlife from poachers. The rangers who were protecting Sudan are specifically trained to fight off poachers, and risk their own life for this animal. Not only does the poachers risk their life when hunting for wildlife, but also the rangers life is at risk [14].
We sure hope that the people who are trying to save the northern white rhino in a sciences way, can safe this magnificent species.

What have been done, and what can be done to save the northern white rhino?

As the number of the northern white rhino became fewer and fewer, not only the governments but also many parties realized this problem. They have already taken some actions to save this endangered species. Conservationists and many other social groups have already taken some actions in attempts to save the endangered animal. In an effort to save the extinct subspecies, conservationists have started somewhat controversial fundraising. We all know that we cannot just count on the technology, we have to take actions by ourselves to dedicated power to save them. As the animal’s faith now lies in the hands of the development of vitro fertilization methods for rhinos, money have to be raised in order to fund this, as the method cost $9-10.000.000. Ol Pejeta Conservancy launched a campaign along with the app Tinder, where users of the app have the opportunity to donate when they come across Sudan’s profile, if they swipe right, and get transferred to a donation site. His profile informs the users that “I don’t mean to be too forward, but the fate of my species depends on me.” [15]. As Tinder has grown to be a major app across the world, this method and strategy is a way for conservationists to reach a wider and bigger audience across the world, in order to raise money to save the species from dying. They are now able to broadcast in 190 countries and 40 languages [15].

Technological point of view

From a technological perspective, scientists and experts are already trying to save this species through “advanced cellular technologies” and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), as previously mentioned [16]. Scientists try to develop a method, which involves the egg cells from the remaining females and semen extracted from dead males, and implanting the embryo into a female southern white rhino. However, this method is incredibly complex with huge risks. Therefore, researchers have a long way to go until it is finally success [17]. Additionally, Morne de la Rey, director of Embryo, mentioned a non-surgical method which removes rhino eggs with a needle inserted through the rectal wall into the ovary. However, this technique will only be attempted on with northern white rhino if it succeeds in southern white rhino. Some conservationists think that it’s too late to save the northern white rhino and that the focus should be on saving other endangered species that still have a chance of surviving. Especially Save the Rhino, which is a London-based group, argues that there is a little chance of healthy new calves with the IVF treatment that’s under development, and if it were to succeed, they would still face the troubles of where to live in isolation from poachers. Besides these claims and arguments, scientists and many institutions still believe there is hope for the northern white rhino and their future survival [18].

Cultural point of view

Uncontrolled hunting is the main reason that leads to the reduction of northern white rhinos. Governments should improve the local and international law enforcement in order to stop the illegal trade of rhino horn to other parts of the world, and strengthen the security monitor to protect rhinos from poaching. Based on research, most of older Chinese people believe that rhino horns can be used as an emergency medicine for saving very young children, which is not true. Hence, educating the end user in Asia is also important for reducing the number of rhino poachers. According to the research, an increasing number of organized criminal groups are carrying out rhino poaching. Daniel Stiles, an independent wildlife trafficking consultant express’s “Well-resourced poachers have the means to offer rangers attractive bribes to leak information, turn a blind eye, leave open gates on electrified anti-poacher fences or even pull the trigger” [19]. Therefore, governments should reduce the phenomenon of corruption and increase staffs’ skills of counter-poaching. For example, in partnership with the Southern African Wildlife College, reaction force, tactical and musketry training are used to advance the skill of law enforcement staff [20].

Social and economic point of view

As stated previously poachers need to be stopped from hunting rhinos and selling their horns. But how is this possible to stop? The Kenyan government needs to stop poaching to save the northern white rhino, but the rank corruption in Kenya compromise its ability to productively fight the scourge of poaching. Also, the rank corruption contributes to national instability and widespread poverty, which in turn drives more poaching [6]. Total bans from poaching have for some species, in many cases, made poaching worse, especially for the conservation of tigers and rhinos [21]. It’s often the case that much of wildlife poaching is organized by local’s due to a very little income, and not so many professional poachers [21]. As mentioned previously, local poachers hunt the rhinos, sell their horn, and make money by doing so, as a way to survive. For many local people, and maybe whole communities, poaching and sales of their killing are mostly a second or often primary income source [21]. By authorities punishing poachers, they hereby decrease their chance of support from the local population, as mentioned often are the one who does the poaching. The support from the local community is, therefore, a key element in conserving the wildlife [21]. Maybe other initiatives and approaches need to be addressed in order to prevent the killings of endangered species. These approaches and initiatives need to provide incentives, for the ones who are involved in poaching to stop. Such an approach could involve establishing an economic interest in the conservation of the wildlife around the locals. Here there aren’t focus on the formal social control by the government, but instead focus on community-based enforcement, by involving the locals in conservation of wildlife, and thereby creating another income for them to stop them from illegal poaching of endangered species such as the northern white rhino [21]. Without the help and inclusion of locals most of these approaches to sustain and manage wildlife will be greatly ineffective [21]. One approach that might benefit the survival of the northern white rhinos, and the other endangered rhino species, is eco-tourism. Eco-tourist lodges can be build, in the areas where the endangered species live. The main interest of the eco-tourist lodges is in conserving the wildlife in the area, in this case, the northern white rhino, in order for it to attract tourists and hereby for it to stay in business. These lodges will be run by locals. Thus, creating a stable income for these locals. This should make them feel like a protector of the animal and hereby keep them away from poaching the northern white rhino, or other wildlife [21].

Conclusion

It’s been made clear and obvious that the subspecies, the northern white rhino, is considered critically extinct, and even possibly extinct in the wild, which also IUCN acknowledge in an assessment in 2011 [22]. This has made many social groups and organizations begin to express concern about the extinction of the northern white rhino. “Why try to restore the species if the cause of its extinction has still not been tackled” is the question many conservation experperts emphasis in the debate on the northern white rhino [9]. In other words, before we to take actions blindly to protect them, we have to figure out the primary cause of the subspecies extinction. There is no doubt that anthropic factor is the primary factor, such as the illegal poaching of rhinos for their horn, habitat encroachment, and restricted and expensive technology. Human beings need to pay for what they have done. Furthermore, what are the reason and justification for the many poachers and businessmen in black markets, who have harmed and killed the northern white rhino, but still get away with murder? The main explanation might be that the management and the implementation of measures are insufficient, which is also a reason for explaining why there are only two female northern white rhinos left in the world. Especially, after the death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, the hope of preventing this species from extinction is fading. Now, nearly all hopes are pinned on the advanced reproductive techniques and the subspecies ability to reproduce.

Acting appropriately to the situation is the most effective solution not only for the northern white rhino but also for all other endangered species. We have to make the public aware of the seriousness of the problem, as well as different parties collaborating to take actions from various aspects. Also the local community need to be a part of the equation in order for the northern white rhino to stay alive. There are still many things need to be done in the future. We hope the public can learn from the imminent extinction of the northern white rhino, and translate the idea of protecting endangered species into action. Never let the tragedy happen again.

Please always remember ‘my name’- the Northern White Rhino.

References

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