Happy World Rhino Day 2019!

This year, Frontiers for Young Minds worked together with seven-year old Ethan (who also put together the fantastic collage above for this blog!) to learn about rhinos from full-time rhino caretaker James Mwenda. James was the man tasked with the protection of the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, who sadly passed away in March of 2018. He is survived by his remaining family –  daughter and granddaughter Fatu and Najin.

— By Will Savage

What is World Rhino Day you ask? Well… this unique day is celebrated every year on 22nd September to bring together all organisations, NGOs, businesses and even individuals to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos today but also to celebrate these glorious creatures in all their magnificence!

There are currently five broad species of rhinoceros or ‘rhino’ on Earth today, two of which are native to Africa (the white rhino and the black rhino) and three of which are native to Southern and South-East Asia (the Sumatran rhino, the Indian rhino and the Javan rhino). Sadly, four of the species’ conservation status is classified as ‘threatened’ with only the white rhino currently having a relatively healthy population.

Due to the population status of these majestic and rather mysterious animals their name is naturally synonymous with conservation. Numerous efforts have been made by both governmental bodies and NGOs to help preserve and increase these populations with varying degrees of success. The two main causes of the rapid decline in rhino populations in recent decades is habitat loss and poaching. With heavily forested areas and grasslands being seized for farming and other commercial endeavors and, sadly, the demand for ivory (rhino horn) remaining high, today’s rhinos are in a precarious position and we need your help!

In one of our recent Frontiers for Young Minds articles you can learn all about the secretive but fascinating Javan rhino and how scientists use camera traps to document their behavior. At the end of the article you will find out what you can do to help raise awareness for the protection of rhinos. Somebody who is already aware that we must do more to protect rhinos is seven-year old rhino enthusiast Ethan of Monkton Combe School in the UK. He wrote to us:

If we do not protect rhinos they will become extinct and then we will not know rhinos and what they are about. It’s our job to protect the environment and rhinos are part of the environment.”

This is why we asked Ethan to, in honor of World Rhino Day, help us interview full-time rhino Caretaker James Mwenda of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, about the important work he does to help protect the northern white rhinos and how we can all do our bit!

Who is James Mwenda?

“My name is James Mwenda, a rhino caretaker here on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. My job entails looking out for the general well-being of the northern white rhinos, and I’ve been working with them for five years and three months now. Every day, I wake up very early in the morning, ensuring that the two female rhinos (Fatu and Najin) are healthy, their drinking water is clean, their watering and feeding troughs are clean, and that all in all they have everything they need.

We also receive visits from volunteers, students and visitors to the northern whites and we seize this opportunity to share the plight of rhinos in general, citing the examples of Fatu and Najin. To me, they represent a red-light warning we must take seriously before so many other species go extinct.

So it’s that essence that we carry every day, to continue speaking for them because they can’t stand and speak for themselves about what they’ve gone through. We can though because we’ve been beside them and really feel the emotional toll of them being the last of their kind. It has changed us as people, and that’s what we try to relay to our fellow human beings. We want them to relate to the issues faced by both northern white rhinos and rhinos at large.”

Is your favorite animal a rhino?

“Yes, my favorite animal is a rhino! I love them for what they are, in terms of being key species – that is, in our fight to protect rhinos in general, we are protecting the whole entire ecosystem. We put so much energy and so much power and so much money into protecting them and by that effort, we have given hope to so many other species. So, I love them because of what they represent to everything else; umbrella species are critical for our ecosystem to continue thriving.”

Tell us about your interaction with Sudan, the relationship you built and your mission that focuses on telling your story and Sudan, with the hope of speaking for the rhinos.

“Sudan was the last male known northern white rhino on the planet. I had the privilege of working with him for around four and a half years before he passed away, and I had a very special bond with him. This was not only because he was the last of his kind, but also for what he represented in terms of species extinction. He was the perfect candidate to help us realize how far we’ve failed this species, and indeed how much we have fallen in terms of how we treat the environment overall.

That drove me to be more compassionate, and to really relate to his story. As I spent so much time with him, I realized the urgent need to speak to our fellow human beings and tell them to address the same issues that led him and his kind to extinction. And so I decided to be his voice because he would never have his own. I’ve tried to honor the promise I made him, on every platform I could, and I’ve taken every opportunity to share his story. I want him to be an inspiration that makes people open their eyes and recognize this new reality, to live it like I have through Sudan.

There are a number of things that we can all do: the most obvious one is to be conscious of the environment. When we talk of rhinos, we are only referring to a single species that has faced the rough side of humanity – but there are a million more species at risk. There’s so much to be done and I honestly don’t confine people to just one thing, because we need balance – even small changes can make a big difference.

For now, though, our rhinos need your help and you can help make a change with direct support for their well-being. By supporting organisations like Ol Pejeta, where we have a large population of rhinos, you can be a part of something bigger. They need security, they need a sanctuary to thrive. Nowadays, many people are so disconnected from the real world, they can’t even see what is happening around them. But others actually want to interact with nature, they want to know what needs to be done, and they can relate.

So apart from just donating, spreading awareness is key to helping others realize this is happening to their world too, and then it’s a matter of coming out, travelling, which directly contributes to places like Ol Pejeta. Come volunteer and get some hands-on experience of what is happening on the ground, see yourselves as part of the solution. Share your knowledge, your expertise, open your minds and know your role in making change happen.”

Frontiers for Young Minds is a big supporter of conservation efforts both locally and internationally and this year’s World Rhino Day is a chance for us all to make a big difference! We would urge everyone to read our recent article on this important day to learn about the challenges these creatures are facing. We would like to warmly thank Ethan for his collaboration, his enthusiasm for rhino conservation is an example to us all. We would also like to thank James for his involvement and for the amazing work he does at the Ol Pejeta conservancy, long may it continue!

Interested in becoming more involved in rhino conservation? Please visit Ol Pejeta’s website to learn more, and if you wish to support their cause, please consider donating.

Also venture into the world of the disappearing Javan Rhino and learn how using clues from their everyday habits and hobbies help us figure out how to help them recover.