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What can be learned from Nola the rhino’s death?

Flickr: Heather Paul

Poaching is terrible. Countless animals around the world--from gorillas, to elephants, to sharks to rhinosare being massacred to extinction.

Many good solutions have been proposed to limit the profitability of poaching and end the spinelessness of regulatory bodies. The best path might be to tackle demandexplaining to people the costs of poaching and how the poached items they covet are in fact useless (ex: ground rhino horn to treat cancerit doesn’t work).

But poaching really comes down to a disregard, and even contempt for, the dignity of animal life. An outlook that holds that humans can use and abuse nature however they want, no matter how cruel and frivolous. It’s exacerbated by inequality, I know, but this disregard is at the root of the problem.

If cows, pigs and chickens could reproduce only in the most ideal and natural conditions, then they’d have gone extinct a long time agoor everyone would be vegans.

And if lions, rhinos, and elephants could be raised like factory animals (whenever, wherever and in whatever quantity), then poaching would probably never become the target of petitions signed by people thousands of miles away.

In fact, there would probably be factories set up to expressly process ivory tusks, rhino horns, shark fins and so on.

And that would be tragic.

Recently, a 41-year old northern white rhino named Nola died after an infection severely weakened her health. She was living in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  

She was 1 of 4 rhinos of her species left in the world.

The 3 other rhinos are closely guarded by teams in Kenyait’s absurd that it’s come to this.  

Nola the RhinoImage: Flickr: Jeffrey Keeton

How did these rhinos get pushed to the brink? Why are they being protected by armed guards like vaults filled with money? This isn’t a hard one: poaching.

The last remaining hope to revive the species is through an off-shoot breed, the southern white rhinowhich is also being poached. The earliest that another northern white rhino could arriveif in-vitro fertilization were successfulwould be 10 to 15 years.

But it’s not at all clear that it will be successful. Many of the closest observers expect the species to go extinct.

So what can be learned from this sad story?

That humanity needs to care about animals before they are in dire need of protection. That it shouldn’t take the threat of extinction and a human name for animals to be dignified.

Animals are complex, intelligent beings. They have every right to live peacefully on this planet as humans do.

But beyond this, they’re also essential to human life.

Climate change, pollution and overhunting are already pushing tens of thousands of species to extinction. The Earth has literally entered the 6th mass extinction in its history.

Not every animal has the visibility of Nola, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t disappearing just as rapidly.

Animals are way more than parts of many people’s diets. As they vanish, environments around the world change.

How-are-Unilever-and-WWF-helping-to-protect-rainforests-b1.jpgImage: WWF

Animals maintain harmony in ecosystems. It’s largely unknown how human society will be altered as they keep going extinct:

Will fragile processes like agriculture be jeopardized? Will plant life plummet when there are no more animals to carry their seeds and spores and churn the ground? Will pests become more of a problem? How will trees and oceans react?

These are all difficult questions to answer. But they’re ones the world should be asking.

It would be foolish to assume that in a world as interconnected as Earth, that the loss of a species will have no consequences. And it’s foolish to dismiss the connection between protecting our vulnerable environments and protecting the world’s most vulnerable peopleit’s not an “either/or” decision and it doesn't have to be challenging. Simple measures can be taken to uphold the dignity and perseverance of everything on Earth. Let's start with an end to poaching.

How do you think this mass extinction should be addressed? Let me know in the comments section below.