The southern pocket of white rhinos was the first to face the destructive power of firearms. Dutch colonists had established themselves at the southern tip of Africa as long ago as 1652, and, as they moved into the interior of Southern Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the white rhino was among the first animals to disappear from the areas they settled. Despite the fact that malaria and sleeping-sickness delayed the intrusion of European settlers into the wilderness protected by the present-day Kruger Park, the area was heavily hunted toward the end of the nineteenth century. The last white rhinoceros was seen there in 1894. By 1895 it was generally assumed that the entire southern population of white rhinos had ceased to exist. (Because the existence of the northern pocket was not yet “known” at the time – i.e. known to non-Africans – it looked as if humans had just exterminated the planet’s third-biggest land animal.)
It was then discovered – “to everyone’s surprise,” Ian Player tells us, – that a handful of these giant rhinos had survived about 100 miles south of the present-day Kruger Park at the confluence of the Black- and White Umfolozi rivers in Zululand. A certain C. R. Varndell responded to this discovery by organizing a hunting expedition into the area. Varndell and his friends shot six white rhinos. Judging from what he wrote about it in his Nature and Sport in South Africa, published in 1897, H. A. Bryden seemed to think that this was a good idea:
"There can, I fear, be little doubt that this rare and interesting quadruped will within the next two or three years have become quite exterminated – a creature of the past. Naturalists will have to thank… Mr. Coryndon and Mr. Varndell for their skill and success in procuring the first – and probably the last – complete specimens of this mammal before its final extermination."
Others reacted in a more rational way to this attack on the last population of giant rhinos. A conservationist by the name of C. D. Guise wrote to the Governor of Natal, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, demanding that the animals be given protected status as “royal game.” When Sir Charles Saunders, resident commissioner of Zululand, issued a proclamation to that effect in April of 1897, there were probably somewhere between forty and eighty white rhinos left in the Umfolozi area. Even if an isolated animal or two still survived in the remote areas of what are now Botswana or Zimbabwe at that point, it was quite clear that the Umfolozi survivors constituted the southern white rhinos’ last viable population.
That population responded so well to protection that, by the start of the 1960s, there were almost a thousand white rhinos in Zululand. The small reserves which had been created for their protection were, however, filling up at this time, and it seemed that the remarkable resurgence of their population might start to level off. Not far away from them, however, the Kruger National Park – bigger than Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara put together – still lay empty of rhinos. Beginning in 1961, therefore, something which conservationists had been urging since the 1920s was finally undertaken: white rhinos were captured in Zululand and released into Kruger. The Kruger population grew with gratifying speed, and there were, as a result, nearly 3,000 of them there, until the current poaching crisis began sending that number on a downward plunge six or seven years ago.
Neither of the two African rhinos are, however, as dangerously close to extinction as the unique, two-horned, hairy Sumatran rhino is.
These fate of the planet's five rhino species will provide a strong indication whether our species is able to control its destructive effect on the biosphere. I personally cannot, at this point, see many reasons for optimism on this score.
I often use Twitter or G+ for messages aimed at the world, rather than just my friends. Better SEO of public comment and search within FB could be great. I notice it's already better... but I think it could continue to get better. Another thing is the ability to make new friends. I really don't have a lot in common with many old high school friends. But Better search should allow me to meet more like minded people.
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