Fighting for the Last Northern White Rhinos

The Last Northern White Rhinos

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Rhino horns are erroneously believed to be of high medicinal value. The previous and current governments of various Asian countries such as China, Japan and Vietnam have been highly criticised for having been unable to curb the booming black markets for rhino horns and their perceived medicinal benefits. The ridiculous thing is this: Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance that our hair and nails are made up of! The poaching of rhinos for their horns have led to the near extinction of the rhinoceros.

Lawrence Anthony had known that rhinos all around the world were on their way to extinction. One day, a journalist who was exchanging commentaries with Anthony, told him that there were only about 15 northern white rhinos, one of the rarest subspecies of the rhinoceros, left in Garamba. Being the conservationist that he was at heart, he felt that he had to try to save these last few northern white rhinos. However, there was one crucial factor; the rhinos were living in an area of the war-ravaged Congo which was controlled by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), one of  the most vicious rebel groups in the world that was fighting a 25-year war against the Uganda government there. The LRA operated from the jungles and were infamous for their horrific actions such as mass executions, rape, mutilation of victims, abductions, and the usage of child soldiers. However, Lawrence Anthony only had one goal in his mind, which was to try his best to save those rhinos. Hence undeterred, he launched an international effort to save them from extinction.

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Having found out about the last few northern white rhinos’ presence at Garamba, he knew that their best bet of survival would be to have them taken out of there and sent to parts of South Africa (possibly even his own reserve at Thula Thula). However, the only way for him to gain permission to enter the premises and extract the rhinos was to approach the LRA directly, which he tried to do during peace talks held between LRA and the Ugandan government in Juba, South Sudan, persuading them to help protect the endangered species.

To his amazement, the rebels trusted him! According to Anthony Lawrence, they were actually rather hospitable.

” I found out that the rhino was the spiritual totem of the tribes that they came from and they thought there were hundreds and hundreds of rhinos, and there weren’t.”

Soon after, representatives of the rebels’ forces visited him in Zululand to discuss the possibility of him acting as the intermediary between the LRA, the UN and the Ugandan government. Seizing his chance to use his position as leverage, Lawrence Anthony agreed, but with conditions: The white rhinos in Garama must be protected, ending the usage of child soldiers, closing of the over-crowded refugee camps in Uganda where millions of people were being held against their will and suffering from hunger, disease, abuse and rape.

The rebels agreed, but wanted Lawrence Anthony to ensure that the United Nation’s military would not launch attacks on their camps. Lawrence Anthony was even called to the hideout of the higher command of the LRA deep in the jungles to meet with the leader’s deputy, Vincent Otti, a terrorist wanted by the International Criminal Court.

However eventually, after a short hiatus, the killing of the white rhinos began yet again due to reasons mostly unknown, and it is now believed that the northern white rhinos have been completely wiped out.

Even though Lawrence Anthony’s efforts to save the northern white rhinos failed, his courage and dedication in reaching the rebels and persuading them to help protect the animals despite facing potential dangers are highly inspirational. He is an excellent role model, showing people all over the world that wildlife conservation is a matter to be taken seriously, and that without efforts to conserve them, animals will just continue to go extinct, leaving the world devoid of great beauty and nature.

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by Dionis Lim

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