Extinct means “vanished, lost, died out, no longer existing, no longer extant, wiped out, destroyed, gone.” That’s why the recent news that there’s only one male northern white rhino left in the world sadly means that extinction is imminent. Then again, the same thing was said about the Bouvier’s red colobus monkey which had not been seen since the 1970s but was rediscovered this year. Could there be male northern white rhinos hiding somewhere too?
Bouvier’s red colobus monkeys were first described in 1887 by Alphonse Trémeau de Rochebrune. “Colobus” comes from the Greek word ekolobóse which means “he cut short” and described the fact that the species had little or no opposable thumb and compensated for it with four long fingers they use as hooks. Found only in the Republic of the Congo, they were also fearless of humans and tasty as bush meat – a combination that drove them to apparent extinction in the 1970s.
In February 2015, a crowdfunded expedition led by primatologist Lieven Devreese found a group of Bouvier’s red colobus monkeys in a remote swamp forest in the Ntokou-Pikounda National Park. Devreese brought pictures of a mother and baby and a warning that the monkeys are still fearless of humans and susceptible to hunting.
Can crowdfunding save the northern white rhinoceros? A 40-year-old male named Sudan, believed to be the last male of his kind, is now under 24-hour guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Two of the four known remaining females are with him in the hope they mate and delay extinction. The other two females are in zoos. This subspecies of the white rhino family has been poached to near extinction for their horns.
Could any more rhinos be in hiding like the Bouvier’s red colobus monkeys? It’s thought that there may be a few in southern Sudan, but the political volatility of that country plus the ruthlessness of the poachers makes the possibility of finding and saving them extremely remote.
While the rediscovery of the Bouvier’s red colobus monkeys is exciting, the plight of the white Northern rhino is not. We like to say we “share” this planet – and potentially this universe – with other living beings. Most children first learning the concept would agree that killing to extinction is not a definition of sharing.