Earlier this year, the Northern White Rhino was declared functionally exinct after the death of Sudan, the last male of the species. Unless another male is found – perhaps misclassified as another species – the remaining two females will be the last of their kind.
And that’s tragic beyond words. As a kid, I assumed that species that went extinct in the past did so because we didn’t know better, or didn’t care about animals and the environment. I figured that, now we do know better and now we do care, we’d do better at preserving species. As a kid, I never thought about funding, or that governments might be unable, or unwilling, to do something to help. I never thought that people would hunt endangered species because they were endangered. I never thought that conservation is as much luck and hope as science and that, despite all your best efforts, you might still fail.
In my naivety, I honestly never thought I’d see an extinction in my lifetime, but the Northern White Rhino isn’t the first and, unless a miracle occurs, it won’t be that last. I wanted to do something to mark the passing of a species – the loss of a branch of our extended family – and to do something to help me grok that we will never see these animals again.
So I’m doing extinction portraits. A wreath, a halo, the sun setting on another unique species we’ve lost forever. I’m researching conservation charities and I’m going to be selling prints and giving the profits to organisations that are working to save species on the brink.
Maybe, that way, some good can come out of this.