Hello readership! This month we are in mourning. Who do we mourn you ask- is it a celebrity, a politician, an intellectual, an important figure; could it be the Biebs or maybe a terrorist you might have found sympathetic? The answer is none of the above, as these things tend to go.
No, today we mourn the death of Suni, initially one of 7 rhinos of the highly endangered species- practically already extinct- of White Rhino that are left in the world. Yes, that’s 7. Not 7000, not 700. Just 7. And now just 6. Only 3 of whom are able to breed.
Although it was announced that the death of this rhino protected in captivity had nothing to do with illegal poaching, and that the death seems to be the cause of natural events, it is nonetheless very sad that it has happened.
To you, the death of this rhino might not have meant much, after all, not everyone is very informed about what species are close to extinction or even how many different species of the same animal exist. But to conservationists, zoologists, and animal lovers in general- or really anyone with a conscience- this is a major blow to the overall decreasing rhino population that has been declining rapidly since the early 1900s.
Although the reason for annihilating this specific species of animal might sound dumb- as opposed to slaughtering a cow or a chicken for consumption or other uses- to the people who poach these animals, the reason is more esoteric in nature; they are killed almost exclusively for their horns.
This only comes to show that we are becoming far more effective killers than mother nature herself.
This is the part where we start redefining some terms.
Illegal poachers- that’s the polite term for assholes with guns- kill these animals for a small fortune simply to cut off their horns and ship them to Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, India, China and even some Middle Easter countries for uses that one might consider wasteful. In Arab countries, they are used for hilts in their janbiya daggers. In Thailand, Vietnam, and China they are ground to a fine powder for “medicinal” purposes. However, after studies done to try to figure out what sort of health benefits these horns offer, it turns out that they have none. Zilch. Zero. So basically, as far as the evidence can provide, there is no real use for White Rhino horns aside from superstitious purposes. And if we know anything about superstition from our great teacher, “history”, is that the word is just a polite way of saying “bullshit”.
I’m not gonna give you the whole hippie-vegan-keep-every-single-creature-on-earth-alive rap, because then I would have to guilt myself into admitting that we as a species would not have survived this long had it not been for help from the food chain below us. But then again, these animals are not being killed for meat, or clothing, but purely for vanity and for some misplaced misconception that what rightly belongs to them can somehow do something for us. It is a killing-en-masse purely supplied by a highly illegal and profitable business that provides no actual goods to an uninformed population.
Although the myth of the precious horn has been around for a while, it is only fairly recently that countries started doing something about the critical killing off of the White Rhino simply for use of its horn. And as the Rhino population decreases more and more over the years, the enforcement on the killing, selling, distributing, exporting and importing of horns has increased from the lax enforcement it was initially to the militarized commandos that guard these near-extinct species.
But the White Rhino is not the only species that we have driven to extinction. The Dodo bird- a flightless bird native to the island of Mauritius, near the island of Madagascar, became extinct after European sailors colonized the island and hunted the birds to extinction. In the precious island of Madagascar, which is a haven for undiscovered creatures and a place where wildlife thrives in large part due to some parts of it being inhabited by humans, there are a few species out of the thousands that reside there that are already becoming extinct due to human activity.
But land animals are not exclusive to our destruction.
Shark finning operation
If you have read anything about sharks, then you know that the yearly shark-to-human ratio when it comes to killing is about 2,000,000 to 1. In reality it is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year, this averages to about 11,000 an hour, about 184 every minute and about 3 per second. Take a moment to let that sink in. And that’s just with regular ol’ harpoons a-la Moby Dick. Ok, perhaps a-la Moby Dick with a little bit of Terminator in there. The point is that this sharkicide (new term), is being done with traditional methods, not counting our dumping of waste and trash into the ocean turning it uninhabitable for the creatures that live in it. So much chemical waste, primarily from the industries of first-world countries, ends up in the oceans acidifying them and destroying entire habitats, like corals, where smaller sea creatures live and feed from. This causes a massive chain reaction where the buck stops with us. Eventually, the harm we cause to the marine life will affect us and eventually, and in a hypocritical twist of fate, that’s when we will start to give this problem the immediate attention it deserves.
The reason for the killing of sharks, if you were wondering, is equally perverse and equally impractical. All over the world, sharks are killed by commercial and recreational purposes. Tournaments in the U.S. and Europe bring in big bucks to catch the biggest sharks. In China, shark fin soup is a delicacy. Maflia-style gangs make a lot of money from a growing demand of the soup which is seen a delicacy. Millions of sharks are captured and finned (more like de-finned) in order for people to consume them, while the body is discarded. Sometimes these sharks are alive when the excruciating process happens and if they manage to survive, they don’t survive long in the ocean wilderness. One of the most depressing parts about it all is that, the fins are supposedly tasteless and are used just to give the soup texture. The rest of the shark is not used.
In the same manner the North American buffalo (American bison) was killed only for their hide and fur in the 19th century, both of the previously mentioned species are being quickly exterminated for similar reasons; and just like the buffalo, they cannot replenish their populations quick enough. And while the buffaloes eventually did bounce back, albeit to a fraction of the populations they had before the American and European settlers pushed the western boundary farther and farther, those events left a deep scar that was felt by the native peoples, who shared a lot in common with them (including their very own extermination at the hand of European-Americans) and who valued these animals not just as things that provide for them, but as companions and creatures that commanded respect. The Native Americans used every part of the buffalo, from the hides, to the meat, to the bones; nothing was discarded and everything was done in a ritual that involved venerating the creature for giving its life for their nourishment- not that it had it any choice but still.
Over the centuries, we have exterminated many species for our use, and every now and then it leads to disastrous consequences that change the course of history. A famous example is that of Pope Gregory IX who by papal decree (Vox in Rama), vilified the black cat as and commanded that all black cats in Europe be exterminated. Well, this tiny fuckup lead to a massive surge in the unchecked rat populations in Rome which helped greatly spread the Bubonic plague, which is of course carried by a tick that lives in rats. The Bubonic is estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people.
Money. OK, let’s move on.
Fine, I’ll explain.
You might be wondering why it’s okay to kill some animals and not others, after all they are also living creatures and the more we find out about them and about their behaviors and anatomies, the more we know that they could possibly have rational thought as we do, they just express it a different way.
Well, the answer is very simple, because like Mufasa explains to Simba in The Lion King (see with your parents about your childhood if you don’t understand the reference), all creatures form part of a chain that feeds itself. It’s the circle of life that goes on in a balance created by nature and which we are part of. Yes, we are not exempt in that circle and it is bad when we mess with it, as we have obviously seen.
I wonder what all these vegan types would say if they could open their eyes and realize that their ancestors killed many animals for nourishment and even for fashion (then again, their fashion was merely to cover their genitals) and kept doing it for thousands of years. I think these people should be given a well-deserved Darwin award for taking themselves out of our precious gene-pool. Or even what they would say if they knew that their very existence means death to certain animals, even the most minute creatures. Every time we breathe, an animal dies in an unrelated event that stretches beyond our own understanding. Not to mention the clothes we wear, the places where we live, and even the very ground we walk on is made from the fossilized and oily remains of ancient animals. Would they object to sacrificing themselves in a game of fully-loaded-gun Russian roulette in order to embody the Janist religion of total and complete respect for life? The answer is no. Let one of them debate you about it.
Yes, we kill animals for various reasons. For self-defense; for shelter; for clothing; for nourishment; for the daily things we need; protein; because there hasn’t always been tofu, etc. But it’s when we take more than what we need that is the problem.
No other species in the animal kingdom behave this way in this particular aspect, and even our ancestors were not wasteful with the creatures that provided for us- or not as wasteful. It has been urbanization and industry that has created a system of surplus that vanquishes the creatures that could previously keep their numbers constant. Not anymore. With our ever-growing demand for…well everything, it is that specific chain that suffers.
Money is not the root of the problem, but it is part of the problem. And I will show you how much of a problem it is by providing you with a guide to show you just how big of an industry the killing off of different animals is.
- Sharks– Main industry: shark finning. 100 million killed per year. Profit: $450m-$1.2 billion per year.
- White Rhinoceros- Extinct in the Wild. Main industry: Rhino horn estimated at $30,000 per pound. 946 rhinos were killed in 2013.
- Dolphins– Main industry: dolphin meat. Up to 20,000 killed legally each year. Profit: up to $200,000 for a live dolphin. $600 per dolphin (dead) sold for meat.
- Seals– Main industries: seal meat and seal pelts. Up to 10,000 killed annually (varies from country to country and depending on legal regulations it could be more or less). Profit: up to C$16.5 million (varies from country to country).
- Alligators- Main industries: crocodile meat and crocodile leather. Endangered species in some areas. Number killed worldwide: unknown. Main cause of death is deforestation and hunting. Profit: $77 billion in luxury goods. (2012)
- Mink- Main industry: luxury clothing. 14 million Mink skins produced in Denmark alone per year. Export value: €.5 billion (Euros).
Whether they are endangered or not, these are just a few species out of many more.
More than money, there is one aspect in any type of campaign to effect change that we can all engage in whether we have money to donate or not, or even whether we want to donate or not. In fact, this tool is the most important tool we all have at our disposal to make the change we want, and indeed the change we need- information. Rather than throw money at the problem, people need to be informed about how their behavior affects other people, other creatures and the environment. The first thing we must do is inform ourselves and ask questions.
Because even when we are philanthropists and givers, we are also selfish, and so the first question we must ask is “How does this affect me?” You need to convince yourself that every action has a reaction and that eventually it affects us all, the only difference is that it affects us to varying degrees. But because we are all in the same boat, even if it’s minimal, the effect does happen.
Next, you should ask “What can I do to stop/reverse this effect?”
At some point, somebody got curious and noticed that there weren’t any buffalo in the American Plains, then someone took action and with heavy enforcement and a massive conservation effort, eventually the buffalo population bounced back. With the technology we have now and the means to see it through (with the help of the internet and social media), this should not even be a challenge in today’s world. However, we arrive at the most critical of all questions: do we actually want to do change our behavior?
Seemingly simple in theory, very hard to do in practice. Why? Because it requires shifting an entire population’s point of view and desires for an inconvenient purpose. This is especially difficult to do especially when it has been going on for many generations. For example, in Taiji, Japan, local fishermen still round up hundreds of dolphins every year during high season and they slaughter them for meat. And despite many efforts to stop this ancient practice, it continues to happen. However, these mobilized efforts can work given the right conditions. For example in the film “The Cove“, there is a scene where Japanese people are shown the slaughter of dolphins and the amount of cruelty that goes into it. In the movie- rather the documentary- most people were sympathetic to the pleas of the activists and conservationists and admitted to a lack of knowledge about how the dolphin meat they consumed was acquired and thus many were inclined to stop eating dolphin meat.
This is just one example of how a very public and massive campaign to show why and how these creatures (animals in general) are slaughtered can make a difference. People can in fact be persuaded to abandon these useless practices given the information.
Another important question you must ask yourself is: do animals not deserve our respect as living creatures?
We have to make a distinction between what we need and what we want. Would we be wrong to say that a cow doesn’t feel as much pain as a seal pup when slaughtered? We have to identify these sentiments we feel and learn to recognize the reality that the world provides enough for us to survive and live well. Yes, some animals will die in order for humans to live, but must we take all the animals? Or just the few we actually need. Eventually, we will come to the realization that at some point, our reach will exceed our grasp.
How can countries help?
In the end, it falls on individuals to change policy. Politicians everywhere, whether we like it or not, “go with the flow” to the tune of their constituents’ wishes- for the most part. It is up to the citizens to demand change in their countries, not just for their country’s sake but for the worlds’. They- we- have a responsibility to demand that things change. Only then will there be a worldwide effort where countries take an active role in their participation to end the destruction of species for our non-benefit. How? More than by just criminalizing the import-export of these goods (rather ‘bads’), they should be curving that demand by other means. Starting by providing better economic opportunities for the people in those countries who would otherwise turn to crime to survive; by discouraging these practices by showing people just how much we need these creatures. By working with the small organizations that want change to make it harder to obtain animal made goods, and by helping to put an end to superstitious ancient claims by means of scientific evidence. Although tougher sanctions is not a bad idea either.
We have already seen- alas a bit late in some instances- that with pressure, governments can change laws and enforce them, as in the case of the White Rhino. Some of these governments will make empty promises while others simply reserve themselves to banning the practice without applying enough emphasis on the superstition, as in the case of China and Russia with the Bengal tigers.
But we now know that the world is now being forced to look at the problem in the eyes instead of the turning the other way as it had done in the past. People are starting to take notice and demanding change. And although the change starts small, it is nonetheless starting.
When we begin to have a serious conversation about the problem and how this affects us, then we can start to talk about the solution, so that the world of tomorrow is the paradise we so much want it to be instead of the barren land we are slowly creating. And maybe one day, the Sunis of the world will not have to be protected by us for the things that are caused because of us.
To follow the story of Raju the Elephant please click this link.
If you wish to donate towards conservation of some of these species, please donate at:
For more information about the rhino horn trade please visit:
And for an interesting, related article, check out the following link.