There is consensus that back in 1970, there were some 70,000 rhinos in the world, the vast majority of which were the Black Rhinos of Africa. Today, half a century later, there are globally about 28,000 rhinos, just over two-thirds of which are White Rhinos, while the Black and Indian Rhinos make up 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively. With barely 150 individuals between them, the Javan and Sumatran Rhinos hang on to existence by a thread.
That we have this many is something of a miracle, but a 60 percent crash overall in the global herd in five decades is hardly something to crow about. Even less so when you consider that a century or so before that, rhinos numbered hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more. The shameful story of how rhinos have been systematically decimated is eloquently told in Rhino Review.
Would it be possible to reverse the situation and restore all five species to substantial populations thriving in the wild? Most certainly. But it would take some doing and some money. Would it be worth it? Could it be justified, given all the other local, regional, and global causes clamoring for funding, time, and effort?
I guess we would have to first confront whether it would really matter if rhinos went extinct. I have often been asked that question, sometimes seriously and sometimes simply to see if I will rise to the bait. Which, of course, I always do.
My gut response, as I suspect it would be for most people reading this essay, is “of course it matters.” But the answer really depends on what you mean by “matter.” If you ask, “Would the planet survive without rhinos?”, the response would be, “yes, most certainly it would.” But then it would also survive quite adequately without us, unpalatable as that might seem, given our hubris. The point, though, is that nothing happens in isolation.
If we lose the rhinos, it would mean that we had lost the battle, not only against exploitation for their horns but also to keep the vast swathes of the habitat they need. And if we were to lose the fight for rhinos, in time (or probably simultaneously), we would also lose the battle for elephants, the great apes, cats, bears, the forests, the oceans, etc. Eventually, a tipping point would be reached where whole ecosystems, including plants and their insect pollinators, would perish. Such a cascade would lead to a very dangerous place for us humans too. And, oh, I almost forgot—the fact that the planet is heating up very quickly certainly doesn’t add to any remaining comfort zone. Scarily, as the dire warnings of the sixth extinction tell us, this is already happening.
So really, saving rhinos is inseparable from saving the planet, or at least keeping one in which our species can thrive. Encouragingly, all is achievable given enough investment and the will to get things done. The sums of money would be huge, but ultimately paltry in the grand scheme of things. How so? A quick overview of the most recent consequence of our dangerous and profligate abuse of the planet and its resources shows the way.
Some seriously clever economic scenario planners at Cambridge University suggest that Covid-19 could exact a cost to the global economy of some $82.4 trillion over the next five years. That staggering amount is some 16 percent of the gross domestic product of all countries combined. Even the lower end estimates suggest about $26.8 trillion. And we’re going to have to cope with that deficit because we simply have to.
Now, let’s peek at five of the major costs of a restorative approach to the world economy. One that would give us an environmentally stable environment, with rapidly improving social justice for all people and Lebensraum for nature:
- $11 billion in extra funding each year until 2030 would end world hunger.
- $227–397 billion a year by 2030 would mitigate CO₂ (climate change) emissions.
- $25 billion a year added to existing education budgets would fund the gapto give all children a quality education.
- $371 billion invested by 2030 would cover universal health care.
- Over time, $317 billion would fund and manage a global biodiversity programthat would secure the world’s conservation areas.
The total investment required each year is just the merest fraction of the cost of one cataclysmic event.
So, should we save rhinos? Damn right we should, and everything else besides. And the fact that we have made no progress towards this end is an indictment against every world leader since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.