Most of us grew up seeing images of rhinos either in storybooks or on TV shows. In either depiction, these animals always appeared as strong and powerful animals that had the ability to command attention and respect from any viewer. And this is exactly how humans should view rhinos, but unfortunately, in the real world, outside of books and TV, this is not how rhinos are treated.
Instead of seeing awe and inspiration in rhinos, many people see an opportunity for profit. Due to the belief that rhino horn possesses rare and almost magical healing properties, this animal has been hunted into near extinction. It is estimated that three rhinos are killed by poachers every day and given this species’ low reproduction rate, this has already lead to the loss of a number of rhino species. The Javan rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011 and the Western Black rhinoceros followed in 2013. Currently, the Sumatran and Black Rhino are classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The most heartbreaking part in all this is the reality that rhino horn is composed of nothing more than keratin … the same protein that makes up our own hair and nails. But because of the unyielding belief in its healing abilities, rhino horn continues to be highly sought after for Traditional Medicines.
Tragically, we are being faced with the stark reality that if we do not make an effort to dismantle these myths and halt rhino poaching, children in the next few decades will only ever know rhinos as animals who exist in fictional stories.
Thankfully, there are many dedicated and determined individuals who refuse to let this happen. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya exists as a haven for rhinos. Many of this sanctuary’s residents are orphans who lost their mothers to the rhino horn trade. Taking on the role of a mother figure for baby rhinos is extremely difficult. These animals imprint quickly and need constant love and comfort from their caretakers.
This photo taken by photographer James Suter gives us just a small glimpse into the amazing commitment that the caretakers at Ol Pejeta have to the animals in their care.
The little one in this photo is Ringo Star. When he was rescued by the Conservancy, he was extremely weak and required constant care and comfort. His dedicated keeper spent endless hours by this rhino’s side trying his best to convince this baby not to give up on life in the absence of his mother. Unfortunately, no matter how much they tried to replicate the care he needed from his mother, the devoted people at Ol Pejeta were not able to save poor Ringo. After two weeks of being ill, he passed away.
Suter writes on Instagram, “He [Ringo]was weak from the start and needed constant company and comfort. Many carers across Africa lose orphans because of this – humans cannot replicate being a mother to an orphaned rhino. And although many survive, there are many that don’t too. And it is why orphans left behind due to poaching are a whole added element to the problem – they cannot simply continue without their mothers.”
There are many success stories of rescued orphaned rhinos who do eventually learn to thrive on their own, but we cannot forget the loses like Ringo. This is the real impact of our endless pursuit of greed. Rhinos are not simply commodities, they are living, feeling animals who suffer immensely from our recklessness.
We can all play a hand in saving this species by raising awareness for the plight of rhinos. Spreading the truth about rhino horn and encouraging others to see the intrinsic value of this species to their ecosystem, instead of the economic value to our wallets, is the only hope we have.
To learn more about Ol Pejeta Conservancy and support their work, click here.
Image source: James Suter/Instagram