Witnessing a major mammal species become extinct before our very eyes is a sobering experience.
And it should be.
The northern white rhino may not be cute and cuddly like the panda, which is the endearing mascot for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), but at last count, there were only three specimens of this majestic animal left alive on Earth.
And despite the best efforts by conservationists around the globe, it is only a matter of time until the northern white rhino becomes extinct.
Late last year, a fourth northern white, a 41-year-old female that had lived at the San Diego Zoo in California since 1989, was euthanized after she was unable to recover from a surgery to drain an infected abscess in her pelvic region.
That left the three surviving northern white rhinos (two females and a male), all of which currently live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
The female animals are well past their reproduction age.
And the male has very low sperm count.
So, today, the great northern white rhino, which once numbered in the tens of thousands and roamed loftily across the savannahs of Africa, is a moribund species.
Ironically, it was the white rhino’s horn, which was supposed to be its greatest weapon of self-defense, that led to its demise.
Poachers have for centuries hunted white rhinos for their horns, which are ground up and used in traditional Asian medicine.
Fortunately, the northern white’s southern cousin, which is its closest relative, has, despite a recent surge in poaching, managed to survive and even recover some of its numbers, thanks to a concerted effort by the WWF and the South African government.
Scientists are now desperately trying to implant a harvested and artificially inseminated egg from one of the elderly northern white females into a younger southern white rhino.
But time is running out, and so far, they have had no success in this last-ditch effort to save the northern white rhino.
Even the three remaining northern white rhinos in Kenya are in danger.
They peacefully roam the grassy savannas and woodlands of Ol Pejeta, each accompanied by an entourage of four to six armed Kenyan soldiers who are there to protect them from poachers.
They are not aware that their extinction is imminent.
But we humans are.
And all we can do at this point is to witness the disappearance of the northern white rhino as a consequence of our own irresponsible stewardship of the planet.
A sobering image, indeed.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]