Extinction is an ugly word.
The sad fact is that we are seeing extinction of animal species happen every day across the planet, right before our very eyes. Biologists are concerned that the Earth is now on the verge of another mass extinction.
The rhinoceros is an example of a species on the brink. One of our largest land mammals, these gentle giants have been on the planet for millions of years but are now one of the planet's most threatened animals. One species, the Northern White rhino, may soon be nothing but a distant memory.
"They're on the brink of extinction. They're all under human care. There's none out in the wild anymore, and most likely they'll become extinct during our lifetime. Hopefully not, but most likely it has a good chance to," explains Joe Hauser, a rhino keeper at the Buffalo Zoo.
Other species of rhinos are living an equally precarious existence. But what could possibly threaten this massive creature? They have no natural predators in the wild...except people.
"There's an average of three rhinos being poached every day in South Africa. It's dramatically increased since 2007. Poaching has gone from an average of fifteen rhinos every year to, in 2004, there were 1200 rhinos poached," said Hauser.
Rhinos are being exterminated for the most superficial of reasons, and Asian countries are by far the worst offenders. Motivated by misguided beliefs and outright greed, these amazing animals are being slaughtered only for their horns.
In China and Vietnam, there are traditional beliefs that the horn has medicinal purposes behind it: that it cures cancer, reduces fever, makes you live longer - all scientifically proven false.
"It really does nothing. It's not even a true horn. The rhino horn is just made of keratin and calcium, just like your fingernail, so it's nothing special, but on the Black Market, it is the most illegal substance on the Black Market, being sold for over sixty five thousand dollars per kilogram," said Hauser.
Though the future of rhinos and other declining wildlife seems bleak, their fate is not written in stone, and although we here in Western New York are a world away, we can all take simple steps here at home to stop the landslide everywhere.
"Awareness is the biggest thing. Learning anything you can about an animal and then passing it on to friends and family, because I'm sure a lot of people don't realize that rhinos are on the brink of extinction, that they might not be here that much longer. So if we can pass that information on to friends and family, that might do something. Because like I said, not one person can save all the rhinos," said Hauser.
The time to act is now, and the responsibility is ours to right the injustice our species has begun. Once the juggernaut of extinction starts rolling, it's hard to stop.
"They have every right to be on this planet. There used to be hundreds of thousands of rhinos roaming across Africa, but that's not the case anymore," said Hauser. "We have the power to save these animals, and it starts with us."
Your chance to help rhinos is coming up.
August 19th is the Buffalo Zoo's annual "Bowling For Rhinos" at Transit Lanes. Each dollar raised helps to provide a safe habitat for both rhinos and elephants. If you'd like to know more, click here