The passing of the last male northern white rhino took the world by shock as if it was some sort of reality check that made people realise that this is a bigger problem than we think. It brought everyone to the same point of "now what?" At 45, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino was elderly in rhino years. His daughter Najin, 28, and granddaughter, Fatu, 17, are considered spring chickens.
The elderly rhino was fraught with problems normally associated with age. During his final years, he was not able to naturally mate with a female and suffered from a low sperm count, which made his ability to procreate problematic.
"There has been recorded mating between different pairs over the last few years, but not conceptions," George Paul, the deputy veterinarian at the conservancy, said. "Based on a recent health examination conducted, both animals have a regular estrus cycle, but no conception has been recorded."
As desperation kicks in, conservationists seek alternative methods to preserve the species. The northern white rhino cannot mate with a black rhino, but it could mate with a southern white rhino which are not endangered, yet. They are a different subspecies of the northern white rhino genetically, though the offspring would not be 100% northern white rhino, it would be better than leaving all species to go extinct.
Other countries are so attempting embryo transfer in a different rhino species but further discussion needs to be taking place between reproductive experts. Researchers were able to save some of Sudan's genetic material to be used for artificially inseminating the two remaining females. European zoos are using in vitro fertilisation of their white rhino females as well as storing their eggs. The main aim, for now, is to isolate female white rhinos that may be potential surrogates to make sure they are ready to receive an embryo.
Paul was quite frank yet optimistic, saying: "Realistically, we are looking at these animals dying in the next decade or so. But hopefully, using artificial methods of reproduction, we might be able to bring them back in the future," he said. "This might mean that it will happen when the current animals are already deceased, but it could happen."
To make matters more distressing, many other species – such as the Sumatran rhino, black rhino, Amur leopard, forest elephant and Bornean orangutan – are also considered critically endangered, some with fewer than 100 left. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) produces a "Red List" that categorises species of plant, mammals, birds, amphibians and marine life from "least concern" to "vulnerable", "endangered", "critically endangered" and "extinct".
2017 saw some distressing results on the list as it currently considers 5,583 to be critically endangered. At least 26 were newly considered critically endangered in 2017, having been in a less severe category the year before. While new species are discovered every year, experts say some species will be extinct before we even know they exist which means they don't even add to the numbers of wildlife around the world and shows that we are losing wildlife at an increasingly rapid rate.
But, classifying a species as endangered is not just a numbers game, there are some other important classifications such as:
Therefore, a species with 500 animals left could be considered more endangered than one with only 300 left if that species is localised to one area and has a long reproductive cycle so that the population cannot quickly grow. A decreasing habitat is not their only threat as trophy hunting has been a big problem for many years, causing a 40% drop in the giraffe population in sub-Saharan Africa in the last 30 years as a tourist attraction.
Only 97 500 giraffes are left in the world and conservationists are demanding the US government classify giraffes as endangered to prevent an extinction going unnoticed or becoming a "silent extinction". Americans imported 21,402 giraffe bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 miscellaneous hunting trophies over the past 10 years. This means that, if the species were labelled as endangered, American hunters would have to prove that their hunting had conservational motives before importing any giraffe trophies into America. Giraffes also face threats of habitat loss, poaching and accidents with cars and power lines.
The dwindling number of giraffes have often gone unnoticed due to the poaching crisis that focuses on elephants, rhinos and gorillas but an increase in social media posts featuring people posing with their guns and the lifeless bodies of giraffes have caught people's attention.
12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin is one of the many trophy hunters who faced a backlash over her social media photo, defending herself by saying: “Although there are flaws in the current system, (poachers posing as ethical hunters for example), trophy hunting remains the only effective way to obtain money for conservation efforts.” There are no laws that protect giraffes against over-exploitation for trade. Masha Kalinina, a humane society specialist said that: “It is clearly time to change this. As the largest importer of trophies in the world, the role of the United States in the decline of this species is undeniable, and we must do our part to protect these animals.”
Five groups have joined together to file a legal petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service this week to officially categorise giraffes under the endangered classification. The federal organisation now has 90 days to respond. The problem they face is that the process of granting status can take longer than a year.
The problem doesn't only exist on land as the sea animals as experiencing similar issues due to pollution and overfishing. The Northern right whale is the most endangered whale species, typically found around the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the US, with approximately only 350 different whales still found. Many species are overharvested to be exported and coral reefs have declined at a worldwide rate of 40% as a result of climate change driven warming. Carbon emissions are changing the chemistry of seawater, creating a more acidic environment for sea life. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000.
This completely tears down many ecosystems and create a lot more pollution in the sea.
Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that the world could soon be facing a major extinction event but on the more positive hand, there is still time to make the necessary changes. The negative impacts are increasing at a rapid rate but haven't reached catastrophic levels, enabling us to reverse the effects.
The fate of wildlife is in our hands and we need to start taking it seriously, now!