On the edge of extinction

  • Behind The Cage
  • Friday, 04 Dec 2015

Nola receives a veterinary examination in December last year. REUTERS/San Diego Zoo Safari Park

THEN there were three. There are only three northern white rhinoceros left in the world after the death of 41-year-old Nola last month. 

She died at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park after suffering from a bacterial infection and age-related health issues. 

Nola took a turn for the worst after undergoing a surgical procedure to drain a large pelvic abscess on Nov 13, and zoo officials had no choice but to euthanize the critically endangered rhino. 

“Nola was an iconic animal, not only at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but worldwide,” said the zoo in a statement. 

“Through the years, millions of people  learned about Nola and the plight of rhinos in the wild through visits to the Safari Park, numerous media stories and social media posts.” 

The zoo said that Nola’s gentle disposition and affinity for having her back scratched made her a favourite of zoo staff. 

Northern white rhinos have been declared extinct in the wild in 2008. The main source of their dwindling numbers were attributed to poaching. 

Poachers would kill the rhinos for their horns which are prized in the black market for their supposed medicinal properties in some cultures. 

In South Africa alone, there has been a recent surge in rhino poaching over recent years. 

Last year was the worst on record -- a total of 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2014. That is an average of more than three animals per day or 100 per month! 

With Nola’s death, only three others remain in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. 

Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr Chris Shepherd said that the northern white rhino subspecies is clearly on the brink of extinction. 

“Things do not look good, and this is the trend we are going to see if the poaching crisis is not addressed,” he said. 

“It’s a tragedy, and people are recognising that it is a crisis.” 

Dr Shepherd believes that enforcement does work, but it is the matter of coordinated enforcement. 

“Efforts need to be stepped up to protect rhinos in the wild,” he said. 

“International collaboration is needed to crush the organised crime networks moving the horns. 

“A combination of very strong enforcement, successful prosecutions, serious penalties and sincere professional demand reduction efforts is essential, and needed urgently,” said Dr Shepherd. 

Saving the rhino and other species from potential extinction needs to be a priority for governments. 

When news of Nola's death broke, the world was shocked. How did we end up with so few northern rhinos left? 

However, some of you may not realise that the sorrow of potentially losing a species is a reality for a local Malaysian species as well.

The Malaysian Sumatran rhino has been declared extinct in the wild. 

There are only three rhinos in captivity in Sabah today, and the two females have problems with their reproductive systems. 

Seeing how efforts to breed the rhinos have not been successful, it shows that we do not have a sustainable solution to save the species. 

“It is a huge loss. It really illustrates how serious the poaching crisis is,” he said. 

“It is an example of why more budget and resources and effort are needed to help save the wildlife in our region.

“One species after another are disappearing. And it is disappearing mostly due to wildlife crime,” said Dr Shepherd. 

“A world with no rhinos is rapidly becoming a real scenario and we need to ensure this does not happen,” he said. 

How did we get to the point of no return? How did our animals dwindle to the point where only a handful are left? 

It breaks my heart that our future generations may not be able to live in a world with the northern white rhino or Malaysian Sumatran rhino in existence. 

Dr Shepherd said these animals, and so many others, are in a real danger of becoming completely extinct if efforts and resources are not increased. 

“The public needs to get involved. Support conservation efforts, stop buying illegally or unsustainably sourced wildlife and wildlife products.

“If in doubt, don't buy. When you buy, they die,” said Dr Shepherd.


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