A few weeks ago, the Sunday New York Times Magazine cover story was “The Last Two Northern White Rhinos On Earth – What will we lose when Najin and Fatu die?” We were on our way home from Vermont and found the podcast narration of the story. I would encourage you all to read or listen to this beautiful story. As an aside, this was another example of luck, coincidence or just awareness as I was not inclined to read this story but an eight-hour drive affords one the time to explore.
The story starts with the death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet. Many, many people fought to save this rhino because with his death, the Northern White Rhino was functionally extinct with only two females surviving, Najin and Fatu, mother and daughter. Sudan’s death was big news for a moment and then the world moved on. The 55-million-year evolutionary story leading to the Northern White Rhino was almost at an end.
The author, Sam Anderson, said that he was intrigued by Natin and Fatu. Do they understand extinction and what do they do all day? So, he took a trip to meet them. “I spent one week out in the field with the girls. I would go to them at dawn and leave when the sun set. It was no time at all in the scheme of things – not even a blink of evolution’s eye, and just the tiniest fraction of the girls’ big, wrinkled lives. But out there in the field, time hung like a fog. Every day felty like a sliver of eternity.” He also spoke of the relationship of the girls with everyone working to save them. “The relationship is not predatory, not extractive. All the small daily interactions – the petting and scratching, the nicknames, the looks – are exchanges of currencies so ancient that they are impossible to hoard and hardly even need names: kindness, comfort, friction, warmth, pleasure, presence, safety.”
As the title questions, what will we lose when these last two die? Many think that nature is brutal and we should better spend our money and time and efforts on more meaningful pursuits than conservationism. To that, the author noted “The answer to this is, first of all, to knock the cynic’s hat off, preferably into a wet gutter, and then to kick it a little farther away every time he tries to pick it up. Then, point out that nothing exists in isolation” I took this to mean that all of us and all creatures are interconnected.
The term functional extinction refers to species but if you broaden your thinking, we are all functionally extinct. This idea definitely shifts your perspective. There will never be another me or you. Spend some time in thought about how to fulfill whatever hopes and dreams you have and then get on with it.
This week’s selection is:
David Attenborough – A Life On Our Planet (Netflix)
A broadcaster recounts his life, and the evolutionary history of life on Earth, to grieve the loss of wild places and offer a vision for the future.