The Lonely Existence of the Last Two Northern White Rhinos

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Since March 2018, Najin and Fatu have been the last two northern white rhinos on earth. Both are females (a mother-daughter duo), and thus unable to perpetuate the species — it’s “functionally extinct.”  In a story for the New York Times, Sam Anderson documents the lonely lives of the two beautiful creatures and details what we lose when a species vanishes before one’s eyes — it brings gravity to the extinction process that numbers and statistics just can’t.

Why This Matters: In 2019, the United Nations released a report detailing accelerating extinction rates. The verdict: 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction. Prof. Sandra Díaz of Argentina, who co-chaired the report, explained that mass extinction not only presents a danger to those species threatened but to the stability of humanity. “Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” she said.  This is why the High Ambition Coalition for Nature is so important – to ensure we save 30% of the planet by 2030 in order to stave off the next mast extinction.

Special Rhinos

Northern white rhinos can grow to be 6,000 pounds and have horns five feet long. Despite the name, white rhinos have no difference in color than their counterparts, the black rhino. The last male of the species, Sudan, lived to be an ancient (well, ancient for a rhinoceros) 45 years of age. When he died in 2018, leaving behind daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu, his caretakers rushed to preserve every inch of him, including his skin and sperm, so that his life could be remembered by future generations.

Those who knew him, however, will remember him for his sparkling personality, and eagerness to munch on carrots from tourists who came to visit him. That legacy has been carried on by his descendants, who now live in a supervised wilderness, accompanied by a southern white rhino named Tauwo, a “tutor” that caretakers brought in to make the ladies feel more at home in the wild. Najin and Fatu grew up in captivity in the Czech Republic, only transported to Africa in 2009, when they were 20 and 9 years old respectively.

James Mwenda, a caretaker the same age as Najin, has been a primary witness for the decline of the northern white rhino. He hopes to share the story of the animals he has come to love and prevent further extinction. “Extinction is a very distant thing for people,” he told Anderson. “So you have to turn extinction into a story — a story in which people can see themselves.”  Anderson shares one such story, describing the mother-daughter pair’s naptime ritual, and the two sharing a gassy symphony, “one biological chord, rising, fading, dispersing, expanding,” with those watching over them.

Up Next

Baby Sharks Enfeebled by Warming Ocean Waters

Baby Sharks Enfeebled by Warming Ocean Waters

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new study suggests that baby sharks are being born tiny, tired, and malnourished as a result of rising temperatures in the ocean. Scientists analyzed the effects of warming waters on young epaulette sharks — a small, egg-laying species that lives in the Great Barrier Reef. These researchers examined […]

Continue Reading 423 words

Two San Diego Zoo Gorillas Contract COVID-19; Mink Farms Hit Hard By the Virus

Last week, two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo were infected with COVID-19. An asymptomatic zoo staff member transmitted the disease to them.  So far they are fine.

Why this Matters: The virus can mutate in animals and spread back to humans, producing newer —and potentially deadlier—variants of COVID-19, though this is rare.

Continue Reading 512 words
Trump Team Finishes Off Migratory Birds Rollback

Trump Team Finishes Off Migratory Birds Rollback

Companies that unintentionally kill or harm migratory birds will no longer face any penalties for their actions — as the Trump administration delivers its final blows to nature on its way out the door. Rolling back the1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act undermines the purpose of the legislation, which was created to protect migrating birds — not the businesses that harm them.  

Why this matters: The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that industry action kills about 700 million birds every year. The administration has rammed through this rollback despite a court ruling that it’s illegal. Interior’s own analysis says it will push species onto the endangered list — but the rollback can be reversed by the incoming Biden administration. 

Continue Reading 420 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.