Anyone who can remember ‘Horny’, the ‘oo-err missus’ 1998 hit by Mousse-T, might recall the amusing TOTP performance of the song when the director sought to dissuade viewers from coming to an obvious conclusion as to the record’s lyrical content by projecting footage of rhinos on the screens behind the act. Reminiscent of the way in which the show skirted around similar issues with Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ in 1972 (hiring Rolf Harris to sketch cartoons featuring bells), the association of horns with the rhinoceros was a natural connection to make if exhibiting wilful ignorance of a colloquial phrase such as ‘horny’.
Sadly, in recent years the horn of the rhino has become associated with other factors; bizarre ancient superstitious beliefs that the majestic appendage to the animal’s armoury somehow contains medicinal properties have lingered into the modern age and have proved disastrous for the surviving rhino population. Unlike the era when European hunters visited Africa simply for the vacuous thrill of the chase, the slaughter of the rhino today is less motivated by an unfathomable desire to track and kill a wild animal for ‘sport’ than it is to make a fast buck on the Asian black market.
The prized possession of the rhino’s horn is, as with elephant ivory, removed by poachers with the kind of sickening brutality that leaves the rhino for dead, diminishing the perilous population numbers with every attack. In 2015, a staggering 1,338 rhinos were killed for such reasons by poachers in South Africa alone. It doesn’t take much working out as to why this situation has arisen when one considers that rhino horns are worth more than gold in countries such as Vietnam; and despite increasingly improved attempts at conservation, the poachers themselves have become more ruthlessly sophisticated in achieving their aims.
The white rhino is divided into two separate subspecies – northern white and southern white; the former is on the verge of extinction, and what is believed to be the last remaining male northern white rhino on the planet, named Sudan, is resident at the Ol Peieta Conservancy in Kenya. Photos of Sudan reveal him to be a truly magnificent beast, a beautiful, graceful ageing warrior of an animal whose noble demeanour and determination to soldier on in the face of extinction is enhanced by the fact he no longer has what should be his crowning glory, a horn. However, it was removed not by poachers, but by the authorities running his home in order to deter those very poachers and therefore preserve his life in the process.
Sudan’s VIP status means he has a round-the-clock armed guard ensuring his safety, and Sudan’s obvious lack of awareness as to precisely how precious he is adds to the melancholy cloud hovering around the rhino as a whole. As with Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island Tortoise, who died at the estimated age of 102 in 2012, there is invariably a tragic poignancy surrounding the holder of such an unenviable title as being the sole survivor of an entire species. Unfortunately, Lonesome George and Sudan are hardly unique if one reflects on the catalogue of casualties of the past century.
The only extant film footage of the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger), for example, dates from 1933, and watching the neglected creature aimlessly prowling around its small enclosure at Hobart Zoo just three years before its death is a viewing experience unavoidably imbued with overwhelming regret at man’s callous arrogance when it comes to co-existence. At least a dozen subspecies of animal have been declared extinct in the last century – including three subspecies of tiger in Indonesia alone – and all are attributable to man’s intervention. The most recent was the western black rhino, officially recognised as a victim of extinction in 2011. As recent as fifteen years ago, half-a-dozen were known to exist in Cameroon, though none have been sighted since 2006. This subspecies of rhinoceros first appeared 7-8 million years ago.
Touchingly, the Ol Peieta Conservancy has hit upon a novel gimmick to promote the plight of the northern white rhino by putting its last male representative in an unfamiliar arena. Sudan’s profile has been placed on the dating site Tinder. It’s worth mentioning that there are two female northern white rhinos keeping him company, but his age (42) has so far proved to be a barrier to breeding. Described as ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’, Sudan has so far attracted enough attention on Tinder to cause the site to crash; if it serves to raise awareness of the stay of execution hanging over the rhinoceros, why not?
A form of IVF is currently being tried out as a means of saving the northern white rhino, though it’s no surprise to learn the project is expensive, requiring the best part of $9 million to expand and develop it further. It’s hoped the Tinder campaign will help. After what we’ve done to his family, Sudan at least deserves some payback from man.
© The Editor