If you were the last of your species, what would you say to the world?
Laura Humphreys is an Occupational Therapist Assistant/Physiotherapist Assistant student who joined Centennial College’s Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience trip to Laikipia, Kenya in May 2017. With the news that the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino died this week, Laura reflects on her visit to the Ol Pejata Conservancy where she met the 45-year-old gentle giant named “Sudan” last year. Scientists hope to save the species from extinction by developing in vitro fertilization techniques specific to the white rhino. Laura’s account is an edited version of her recent blog.
“If you were the last of your species, what would you say to the world?” This was a question posed by one of our Centennial College teachers at our end-of-the-day campfire on our Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience (GCELE) in Laikipia, Kenya. His question provoked a lot of conversation, as that same day we visited the Ol Pejata Conservancy, which is the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa.
It’s home to the last two female northern white rhinos and was home to the last male northern white rhino, Sudan. As I reflected on the death of Sudan, this remarkable and gentle creature, I thought to myself, “if we gave Sudan a microphone and he had the ability to share his knowledge to the world, what would he say as a representative of his near-extinct species?
Our leader from Rift Valley Adventures, Joyce, said that the destruction of rhinos is in large part due to habitat destruction and pure ignorance. She explained to us how poachers kill rhinos so they can “benefit” from their horns. Supposedly, these poachers profit from the rhino horns as many consumers believe it to be an aphrodisiac and use the horns for medicinal purposes. Even Joyce was choked up as she described that these huge, wonderful animals are killed for no more than a few centimetres of their body. As the CEO of Ol Pejeta, Richard Vigne, explained, Sudan was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for raising global awareness of so many species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity.
These rhinos would be extinct if it weren’t for the effort of people like the Ol Pejeta Conservancy workers. It was quite evident that they were in love with these animals. As I reflected on what they said, I thought to myself that despite all of the hate and anguish in the world, there are still good people who want to help advocate for those who cannot. With the mere size of these rhinos, they could kill a human being just by walking on them, yet as I observed the conservancy workers interact with them it was quite clear that humans and animals can, in fact, live in harmony. This reminded me of how fragile our relationships with animals are and of the integral role we play in advocating for their survival.
If I were to place myself in Sudan’s large shoes, I would want the world to see my sadness and learn my story. I would want them to spend even just five minutes with me and learn as many facts about me as they can. I can recall a professor I once had in university explain to me that the more you know about something you are scared of, the less you will be scared of it. Sudan’s near-extinction is in large part due to ignorance.
People simply did not take the time to understand and educate themselves about this species. I would want my audience who is listening to learn about how I, as a rhino, contribute to the world and to encourage them to love all that this world has to offer. Take that extra time to understand the unknown, and to always continue educating yourself on stories like this. By better understanding the root causes of destruction, I would only hope that something like this never happens again.
Compassion will save the world, that I am confident. I encourage you to research Ol Pejata Conservancy’s mission and to spread to word of their efforts to save so many wonderful animals. You are the start to something incredible, and you can and will make a difference in this world one step (or in Sudan’s case, one large step) at a time.
Rest in peace, Sudan. It was a true privilege to have met you.
By Laura Humphreys