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Everyone is worried about the wrong endangered rhino

A lesson in rhinos, conservation, and article timestamps.


Cynthia McKelvey

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 15, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 1:54 am CDT

A bunch of people on twitter are mourning the loss of the western black rhino.

Which is a little odd because the subspecies of black rhino was sadly declared extinct in 2011. Experts agreed that excessive hunting for the animal’s horn drove the species to its demise.

Tweets about the rhino’s extinction stretch as far back as February and it’s a little unclear just why people are upset about this now. But it may be due to a game of Internet telephone spurred by tweets of this blog post mentioning both the extinction of the western black rhino and the very critical status of the northern white rhino. For clarification, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updated the western black rhino’s status from “critically endangered” to “extinct” in 2011, and declared the status official in 2013.

As of right now, the northern white rhino is hanging by a thread. Only five of the subspecies are still alive today. On Tuesday, several news outlets reported the last living male northern white rhino, Sudan, is under 24-hour armed guard to protect him from poachers. His horns have also been removed in an attempt to make him less attractive to poachers.

The rangers protecting Sudan have initiated a GoFundMe campaign to help keep them safe and functioning, so they can continue provide the same for Sudan.

Sudan is 40 years old but scientists are hopeful that he and his two female companions at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya may be able to produce progeny and save the sub-species from extinction.

Rhinoceros horn is mostly made of keratin, same as human hair and fingernails. Despite its mundane composition, powdered horn is valued in Asian markets due to its purported medicinal properties. Just to be clear: Rhino horn has no medicinal use whatsoever.

The northern white rhino is a subspecies of white rhinos that live in Africa. Only five of the northern variety remain, but roughly 20,000 southern white rhinos are still alive in wildlife reserves, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Though there are more black rhino subspecies, many are extinct and the their total numbers are hovering around 5,000, landing them in the “critically endangered” category.

Screengrab via Lengai101/Wikimedia CC BY 3.0

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*First Published: Apr 15, 2015, 12:01 pm CDT