For Sudan

Many things have happened on our watch. Things that we may not have been directly involved in, but we do need to take collective responsibility for as the human race. We can raise our voices or remain silent. History will remember and judge us for our choices.
Sudan, the last northern white male rhino, died due to poor health on our watch. Why was he the last one?
Part of a rare sub species, this population was heavily reduced, almost wiped out in fact, by poaching in African countries between the 1970s and 1980s. The reason: rhino horn for traditional medicines and weapons. Sadly in 2014, Sudan’s male counterpart died a natural death.
Sudan became the “last man standing”. He became the face of rhino conservation the world over – a clarion call to mankind to save these majestic creatures that roam the Earth with us. He was visited by thousands of people every year, including celebrities, to raise the global conscience of conservation.

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Sudan with his caregiver James Mwenda. Picture from his Facebook profile. Read his heartfelt tribute to Sudan at the end of this post.

He was also dubbed “the world’s most eligible bachelor”. That’s a story I remember fondly. It warmed my heart. It was the type of social media awareness that seemed workable in this era of technology Last year Sudan joined the Tinder dating app to raise awareness and funds to ensure the future survival of his species.
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Sadly, it didn’t work out as planned as not enough funds were raised. And now, Sudan is no more. Sudan’s daughter, Najin, and her daughter, Fatu, have health problems too and so cannot carry pregnancies.
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Najin (left) and Fatu

Is all hope lost?
Certainly not. Conservationists and those who cared for Sudan at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya are pinning their hopes on technology once again. In a direct tweet, the conservancy told the world,
“The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females.”
It will be one of the biggest conservation projects undertaken in our time. It requires careful planning and significant funding. If anyone is able to donate, please do. It is time once again to appeal to the conscience of the wealthy and the global business community. I cannot think of a better CSI project for corporates and conglomerates than saying, we helped save the white northern rhino from extinction.
The reality is that this species is not the only one at risk. This story by the BBC helps put into perspective just how threatened other animals are too, like species of leopard, elephant and orangutan.
From a personal perspective, it is a travesty of nature’s beauty and bounty that this is happening on our watch. My son loves nature and animals. He can spend hours watching them on television. For his sixth birthday, his request was simple. He wanted to see animals. So off we went for a short getaway to Zululand and then to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal. He was in his element. Seeing a zebra and giraffe up close were “wow!” moments. But, the look on his face when we finally saw a rhino and baby calf was one of absolute wonder. No picture could do justice to it, because really, it is an experience that stays with the little ones forever.
I wonder; will he be able to experience the joy of seeing other species too? Will our children be able to understand them, and realise why nature’s creatures must be respected? Or will they be wiped out as our children grow older?
It’s a question we will have to answer in the future by our actions today.
Let’s begin on a basic level. How do you teach children about animal conservation? I am a mother, yes, and an animal lover, but I am no expert on conservation or children. So I typed that very question into Google and I came up with pages of different links – from websites to blogs. Try it, and I’m certain you will find something that can work for you and your children. Do not let it be another missed opportunity.
Image credit: Gallo

Of course, I would not forgive myself if I did not touch upon the myths around rhino horn and why rhino are subjected to this onslaught of maiming and killing. The belief is that rhino horn has medicinal properties – a claim that has now been rendered baseless by the experts. Yet, it’s a myth that persists. It’s why many of our own rhino in South Africa are targeted by poachers on a daily basis. Greater education that reaches communities at grassroots level is clearly needed. Government must intensify efforts on that battle front in the same way that it has bolstered efforts to have more wildlife parks and reserves under police guard. For you and me, conversations about conservation within our social circles can help us all do more good.
Our children are watching what happens on our watch. Let’s do it for them, and for Sudan… a gentle giant of our time.

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