One of the last remaining northern white rhinoceros on Earth passed away last month in San Diego Zoo. Already extinct in the wild, this brings the number of northern white rhinos in existence to a mere 3.
The remaining rhinoceros live in captivity and under armed guard at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Their horns have also been removed as an extra measure to prevent poaching, which is the main factor responsible for the near-extinction of the species.
Although the sanctuary houses two females and a male, they are long past reproductive age and so various groups are searching for a way to repopulate using frozen genetic material. There is a plan under consideration at San Diego Zoo to use southern white rhino females as surrogate mothers for northern white embryos, but this process is estimated to take another 10 to 15 years.
Northern white rhinos used to be found in abundance across central Africa. However, from 1960 to 1984 their numbers dropped from 2000 to just 15. Most of these animals were killed for their horns, which fetch a high price on the black market, mainly for use in producing Chinese herbal medicine (despite the lack of any known health benefits). Like many other wild animals, they also lost a lot of their habitat to the expansion of human civilization.
In general, the extinction of a species can be caused by abnormal weather conditions, environmental pollution, excessive hunting, deforestation and development, and the introduction of alien species. As you can see, many of these factors are a result of the actions of humans.
Since 1975, at least 1000 different species have been recorded as having gone extinct every year. Today that number is believed to have risen to 40,000, which would mean that one species goes extinct every 13 minutes. If we continue to drive environmental change the way we do now, some researchers forecast that in 100 years’ time there will be fewer than half the number of species on Earth as there are today.
The rapid decline of the northern white rhino happened right before our eyes and we may even witness the disappearance of this entire species, one with which we are so well acquainted. Perhaps this will make us consider more carefully our impact on the world around us, and how we can adapt to live in harmony with other forms of life.