Gone, and on our watch…

Today, the last male Northern White Rhino (known as ‘Sudan’) died after an illness at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya. That’s basically it, a major mammal ‘mega fauna’ species is now effectively extinct because there are just two females left. 

And that has happened on our watch.

Photography theme? Well yes, this extinction is being rightly witnessed and documented through the medium of photography; both still images and video.  But for me, it was brought home a bit more emphatically. On Saturday I was listening to a talk by a pro photographer Ami Vitali talking about her documentary and storytelling work.  She touched on one of her many long term story projects - ‘Kenyas Last Rhinos’.  Sunday, she said she was heading back to Kenya to photograph Sudan for what she knew to be the last time. It’s a poignant story that goes back to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the repatriation of the last four animals to Kenya in a last ditch attempt to save the species. Some of Ami’s images are here. Do please take the time to have a look.

I can only offer up an image of one of Sudan’s cousin species - the Black Rhino.  Here pictured in Zimbabwe in a protected (i.e. by armed guards) conservancy. It’s a little strange to think we won’t be able to photograph young Northern Whites like this again.  

While the extinction of the Northern White Rhino is being witnessed, so many other species are at risk of slipping away unseen.  Consequently, my personal learning from this weekend was to reinforce that, as much as wildlife photography is about enjoying taking and sharing great images, we photographers owe even more of a duty to both pursue our passion with care for not only our individual subjects but also to use our work for the wider protection of environments and promotion of conservation.  Something I try to do here on this blog from time to time.  Otherwise, well, what’s the point?  It would not be about sharing what you can go and see and enjoy but just a documentary on the crass stupidity of our own species.

[As a footnote, I should just note that, it might not all be quite totally over.  There is sperm stored and there is therefore a slim chance that IVF and surrogate parenting from Southern White Rhinos might just be possible.  But that’s never been done with rhino and its not been successful in the trials to date. There is also really a major problem with lack of genetic diversity.  So, that is somewhere between ‘desperate’ and ‘none’ as chances go.  So please excuse me if I’m pessimistic here.  Nevertheless, I wish the dedicated team trying to make this work all the best.]