There are some words that simply should not exist in any language –  words like “genocide” and “extinction.” And yet, because of some perverse kink in human nature, we are all too familiar with these words and what they mean. But while we may be able to define these words in an academic sense, it is hard to know what they truly mean because, for most of us,  they are far removed from out day to day lives. But for Eva, the veterinarian who took the photo below, the word “extinction” has a very real, very terrible meaning.  She worked at The Rhino Orphanage, an organization that was founded in 2012 and is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of baby rhinos who have become orphaned by poachers.

While rhinos have been on this planet for over 50 million years, it is now estimated that the species is 10 years away from extinction. Poachers, involved in the illegal wildlife trade, have slaughtered nearly all of these majestic creatures for one thing – profit. It is believed that rhino horns contain medicinal properties and can cure a variety of ailments, including impotence. These beliefs are, of course, completely unfounded – in fact, rhino horns are made of keratin, the same protein as our hair and nails. Never the less, three rhinos are killed every day. They are butchered, their horns are removed, and they are left to bleed out and die. There are only five species of rhinos left on the planet.

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Because of this, we all know what the words “rhino orphanage” mean. But for Eva, who has rescued seven baby rhinos in her time with the Rhino Orphanage, the phrase has been given heartbreaking significance. She remembers the death of Echo, one of her first rescues, on Facebook, “Rhinos may have small eyes but if you know how to look at them, they are very expressive. And Echo showed us when she couldn’t fight anymore, when even her sad attempts of getting up were too much and too painful for her. Thank you Echo, for putting up with us and accepting our help, I’ll always regret that we couldn’t do more for you. And I’m sorry for Tshidi and all the other rhinos that were lost and sadly will still be lost to poaching in the future. You’re the reasons we can’t and won’t keep quiet”

In her time at the orphanage, three other rescued babies passed away, but she has grown to know and love the survivors more passionately because of that. She explains, ” You fall in love with their way of communication, the sloppy kisses and demanding sounds they make, when they think it’s feeding time. . .  You keep sharing ticks and mud baths, you don’t mind being sweaty and covered in dirt and you definitely don’t mind sharing afternoon naps with them. And finally, you just sit with them, watching them graze, imagining how they are going to look like in five or 10 years time, out in the wild with other rhino friends, proudly wearing their big horns. Safe from danger in the world where rhino orphanages aren’t necessary and in the world that loves them and accepts them for what and who they are – amazing modern dinosaurs, full of character and mischief.”

But she is not unaware of the sad truth outside of the sanctuary. “Losing any animal is sad and heartbreaking,” she explains, “but losing a rhino…. I don’t think anything can compare to that. You’re not just grieving because you lost an animal that you came to love, that you envisioned one day being back in the wild. You’re grieving for nature and for future generations that quite possibly won’t be able to see rhinos in the wild. You’re grieving another lost battle in the war for rhinos”

While we may not be able to touch and see the suffering creatures in the world, we should not forget that they are suffering. This photo should remind us, not only of the rhino’s plight but of the plight of all the endangered species on the planet. We should struggle each day to live consciously, to reduce our impact on the planet’s natural resources, and, until we have no more use for words like “rhino orphanage” we should remember the very real violence and cruelty we have imbued these words with.

You can help to protect rhinos by sharing this post with your friends and donating to the Rhino Orphanage.

Image Source: The Rhino Orphanage/Facebook

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