Hope Amid the Slaughter

There is the tiniest spark of hope in the face of a malignant cancer that is eating away at the natural world. beautiful

Where I have to start instead is with the opposite of hope. The West African black rhino has gone the way of the dodo, which is to say it has become extinct. This is not to imply it has gone the way of the Saber-tooth tiger or the T-rex, creatures which came to extinction as a natural end. For, while it is true to say the tree of life sometimes springs off a new branch and prunes back on an old one, that is not the way the West African black rhino went to the wall. Instead, they reached their end in the most insidious of ways. Wiped off the face of the earth by a predator unlike any other. One that hunts not for its own survival but for lesser reasons. The predator is known as man.

Remember that malignant cancer I mentioned at the start, that would be us.


We, the human race, have hunted the Rhino for sport, destroyed its habitat, then poached and finally killed off this great West African herbivore. We, as a species, have ended the existence of a creature with no natural predators. A majestic creature that can draw a line of descent back millions of years. Only to be killed off by a predatory species who have hunted them, not to eat, not to feed our young, or maintain our own survival. One which has hunted them because we covert only one piece of the rhino. The single piece of them which makes them so recognisable and unique among creation, their horns.

Yes, that’s it, for their horns.

The rest of the carcas is just left to rot. The hunters do not even butcher it for meat. Maybe it feeds a few hyena’s and buzzards but otherwise is just wasted flesh putrefying in the West African sun. Or at least, the hunters did, as I say, the rhinos are all gone now.

Why then do we hunt them for their horn? Why would one species hunt another just to cut off one small part of it?

Well, it’s simple enough really, the horn that nature gave the rhino to defend itself from other predators than us, looks a little bit phallic.


And there, in a nutshell, you have it. Humans with their wonderous imagination and greed looked at this wonderful creature, saw its single proudly jutting horn and decided that as it looked a little bit like an erect male member. And because of this vague similarity, humans decided that by crushing the horn into a powder and taking it as a medicine, a man could become a powerful lover.

Yes, there you have it, powdered rhino horn, the herbal medicine Viagra of choice…

Only, of course, it isn’t, it is at best a placebo effect. You could be taking talcum powder, and it would have the same none effect as long as you believed it was what it said on the bottle. But cultural history and ancient medical practices say differently. With the same kind of logic that prescribes a course of leeching for haemophilia.

To be clear, I have no axe to grind about alternative medicines. If they work for you, then all power to your ginger root. Crush that basil, parsley, and clover root,  mix it up and add a little walnut oil, then cure your warts. Get rid of your cough with elderberry powder mixed with seaweed. Cure your bad back with needles strategically placed in your left foot. Homoeopathy has a place. Thousands of years of folk medicine can’t all be wrong. Western medicine is far from always right.

But when these alternative medicines leads to the trade in bits of animal, particularly endangered ones, it is just wrong.

Powered rhino horn, something you can now buy for 1000 dollars an ounce and probably going up as I write, has cost the world this magnificent creature. All because each horn was worth tens of thousands on the black market, and humanity’s ability to put a price on the priceless is unending.

Such a horn on a living breathing rhino would, in case your in any doubt about my opinion here, be the only priceless thing here. Yet even with the extinction of the West African Black Rhino, the slaughter has not stopped, because it’s close relative the East African Black Rhino remains, for a little while, open to exploitation. So the poaching goes on.

In a bid to halt poaching, Rhino’s in Namibia are routinely dehorned by the Namibian government game wardens in an attempt to halt the slaughter. Of course, it means they are mutilating the poor creature, but it’s better than being slaughtered by poachers right? Except it isn’t, because if the poachers track a rhino for a couple of days, when they discover it has been dehorned they kill it anyway. Perhaps they do this out of frustration or just malevolent evil, or just to try and make the Namibian government stop dehorning as a practice.  It hardly matters why, when the result is still a dead Rhino festering in the sun.

Douglas Adams, that fine writer of guidebooks to the universe and answerer of ultimate questions, also once wrote a book called ‘Last Chance To See’, which is a wonderful read. In it, among other endangered species he visited the West African Black Rhino. So moved by this majestic animal was he, that he became a lifelong advocate for the preservation of the species. He once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit in order to raise money to help preserve them. Sadly for us all, both Douglas Adams and the West African Black Rhino are no longer with us. The rhino outlasted Mr Adams by almost a decade. I suspect would be of little consolation to either of them. The charity he helped to found ‘Save the Rhino’s’ is still working today to say the remaining Rhino species, there is a link at the bottom to their website.


So this brings me back to that slither of hope I motioned in the beginning. Which came to me in the form of my son who sent me the following message:-

“I give up on humanity, the African rhino is extinct”

My son was fifteen when he sent me this message, and to be frank a little pissed about the extinction of a species. So there you go, there is my slither of hope. My hope that the next generation may manage not be as destructive, murderous, and basically as shit as my own. It is only a small slither of hope, however, because I remember giving up on humanity myself at much the same age…..

Until that was the aforementioned Mr Adams inspired me to a little bit of hope when I first read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The hope that we were not irretrievably stupid petty, greedy creatures. Which also remains a small slither of hope.




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