Scientists worry that we may be on the brink of the world’s sixth mass extinction event. In the past, periods of mass species extinction on Earth have been prompted by natural disasters, but there is no comet hurtling towards the planet and no earthquake that threatens to rend the earth’s crust in two this time. What experts are pointing to is far less dramatic and far more unsettling – humans are the cause of the sixth mass extinction.

Human industry has put well over 4,500 different species onto the endangered species list within the past few centuries. Primarily, our actions in the form of poaching, pollution, and habitat destruction have driven countless plants and animals into extinction over the course of our time on the planet. Considering humans have only existed on Earth for the past 200,000 years, seemingly no time at all compared to the planet’s 4.5 billion year history, our influence can be characterized as catastrophic. It’s estimated that humans will be responsible for the extinction of 50 percent of the world’s living species by 2100.

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The rhino is one animal that has been particularly hard-hit by human activity.

The photo below was taken by James Suter, a guide and wildlife photographer. It shows one of the three White Rhinos that are left in Northern Africa living on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. In the 1960s there were over 2,000 wild White Rhinos in Northern Africa. The last one was butchered by poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. The last three white rhinos are guarded day night in a last-ditch attempt to save the species from extermination at the hands of careless humans.

Photos like this one captured by Suter may well be the last way we can ever see these animals if something doesn’t change – and soon.

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Rhino numbers have decreased primarily due to the threat of the illegal wildlife trade, one of the world’s largest illicit trades that is worth around 20 billion dollars. Poachers hunt rhinos for their horns, which are used as a drug, and aphrodisiac, and panacea in Traditional Asian Medicine. Sadly, the myths surrounding the power of rhino horn are just that – it is composed of nothing more than keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and nails. Yet, three rhinos are killed every day to meet the demands of this industry.

So what can we do in the face of such callous ignorance? The best way thing to do is be a conscious consumer and boycott any products that may have moved through the illegal wildlife trade. There are also many organizations that are working to protect rhinos directly. Here are a few:

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  1. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy 
  2. Save the Rhino International
  3. The Rhino Orphanage – South Africa

Photos like this one are incredibly important tools in the fight against species extinction. Most people living in the Western world are unaware of the plight rhinos face, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play a role in helping to save them. The more awareness we can spread about rhino horn, and how they are not magic cure-alls, the more animals we can protect from poachers. When the buying stops, so can the killing – and getting people to stop buying is as simple as educating them. So share this post and encourage everyone you know to as well. Together we can change the perception of rhinos from commodities to important members of our global ecosystem. It would be a shame for us to recognize that rhinos are more valuable to us alive than dead after they’ve already been wiped off the face of the planet.

Image source: James Suter/Instagram