Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The dodo is gone. Elephants are on their way out. The African white rhino is literally on the edge of extinction. Black rhino are close behind. I’ve had the privilege to have traveled to sub-Saharan Africa – from Namibia and Botswana to Congo, from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe to Rwanda and Zambia – to Java (Indonesia) to see vanishing orangutan, to Komodo (Indonesia) to see the rare “dragon,” Assam (India) to observe the disappearing one-horned Indian rhino and numerous other game parks in India to trek and photograph all kinds of wondrous creatures.
My journeys to see what I knew as “zoo animals” as a little boy, accelerated by documentaries and nature-oriented television programs, began shortly after my graduation from law school in the 1970s and continued to the present day. I wanted to see these creatures in their native habitat, where I was the visitor (mobile protein supplement?) and they were at home. I’ve been charged by elephant, rhino, and crocodile and played with baby gorillas in the wild. The memories bring tears to my eyes. I have a deep respect for this incredible creatures.
Every trip back revealed fewer and more elusive wildlife. Cheetah were decimated by disease. Elephant and rhino were poached for their horns, gorilla for mementos made from their hands and feet… even as their rangeland were ravaged by farmers in search of more land and armies fighting each other in these former animal paradises. Guns. Traps. Even explosives. Poor people seeing paths to relatively decent pay by decimating earth’s heritage.
But today is perhaps an epitaph for an animal I have never seen and will never see. A precious animal that was here – alone and looking for a place to live – probably this year… but is gone now… forever. The September 21st BBC.com tells this sad story: “In the dense, hilly jungles of southwest Vietnam, a lone rhino once wandered. She was the last of her subspecies [pictured above] and this was her home.
“Cat Loc, a northern sector of Cat Tien National Park, is a part of the world once ravaged by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Today it is better known as a wildlife conservation area – but also a place where some of those efforts have failed.
“The last rhino spent her days roaming across thousands of hectares, a much wider range than was thought natural for these herbivores. But then again, she had the run of the place. There were creeks and rivers where she could wallow and there was also plenty of food – like rattan, a woody climbing plant found all over the area.
“But one day, a hunter peered at her through the sights of a semi-automatic weapon – and pulled the trigger. We do not know if the rhino saw her killer and we do not know how many times she was shot. But as that gunshot cracked out in echoes across the forest, the extinction of Javan rhinos in Vietnam was sealed. However, it did not happen immediately. The rhino, though wounded, managed to escape. And so, for a time, she disappeared into the thick greenery that sustained her.
“[When her remains were found, a] photo of the skull, separated from the rest of the animal's bones, clearly showed that the horn had been removed. In fact, it had been crudely hacked off. Poaching.
“The park had already issued a statement saying that the rhino's death was the result of natural causes, but [a conservationist for the World Wide Fund for Nature] was not so sure. And, upon checking the bones a few weeks later in May, [the WWF tracker] discovered a bullet lodged in the left foreleg.”
Mankind is a selfish and uncaring species, it seems. That there are vast numbers of people on this earth who believe that unchecked exploitation of natural resources is their God-given right. That God’s living creatures are expendable, that life expectancies of residents over over-polluted cities are dropping fast and that we are witnessing a wholesale reshaping of the earth’s land masses, oceans, climate and the sustainability of animal and plant life, alike, is intolerable to me. But there are still climate-change-deniers, those who believe that they can take nature’s creations without the slightest accountability, and illicit merchants in the wildlife trade who benefit by such distorted values. These is no morality in these twisted values. There is no respect for God’s creations.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we are all diminished by each and every species that disappears from the earth forever… and perhaps we will eventually suffocate ourselves in this wallowing excess.

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