Best-selling author Stuart Gibbs reminds us that we must actively protect wildlife before it’s too late

The northern white rhinoceros is going to go extinct in your lifetime. At this moment, there are only three of them left on Earth and they are all too old to breed. So soon, there will be no more northern white rhinos.

I am guessing that you are upset to hear this. Maybe you are even horrified. Well, you should be horrified. The northern white rhino is a beautiful animal and they were wiped out by humans, who killed them all simply for their horns.

Why do humans want rhino horns? For two reasons:

1) Some people mistakenly believe rhino horns have medical properties, and can cure diseases like cancer. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same substance your own fingernails are made of. If keratin could really cure disease, doctors would tell you to chew your fingernails.

2) Some people simply think that a rhino horn looks better in their home than it does on a live rhino.

People often ask where I get the inspiration for my books. The inspiration for Big Game, which is about rhino poaching, came from my son. When he was five, we visited the San Diego Safari Park. At the time, there were eight northern white rhinos left in the world, and four were at that park. That really upset my son, so I decided to write about poaching.

I did not write about northern white rhinos, however, because I was worried that they would be extinct by the time the book was published. So I wrote about Indian rhinos instead, although the sad truth is that they are also headed toward extinction. All rhino species are. The Javan and Sumatran species are down to only about sixty animals each. The southern white rhino in Africa is being poached at a rate of three rhinos a day. Which means that within a few decades (maybe less), the only place anyone will be able to see a rhino is in a zoo. And that’s if we’re lucky.

This is a northern white rhino. Above, Stuart is seen with an Indian rhino.

While researching Big Game, I learned many fascinating things about rhinos, but here’s what impressed me the most: They are surprisingly gentle animals.  Hippos are often thought to be docile but are really dangerous—but rhinos are the opposite. Many people think of rhinos as ornery and aggressive, but for the most part they are not. The ones in zoos are often sweet-tempered and kind.

Nola, the last remaining northern white rhino in San Diego, was regarded by her keepers as one of the most docile, lovable animals at the park. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago. The remaining three northern white rhinos are owned by a Czechoslovakian zoo but are living out their final years in a preserve in Kenya, protected by armed guards.

You are probably wondering how we can keep all rhinos from going extinct. It’s a complicated problem, but basically we need to convince people to stop buying rhino horns. If rhino horn loses its value, then poachers will stop killing rhinos.

To do this, people worldwide need to be taught that rhino horn does not cure disease. Countries need to make importing rhino horn products illegal and enforce those laws. Communities that live near rhinos need to believe that a live rhinoceros is worth more than a dead one.

There are many organizations working to protect rhinos.  If you care about these amazing animals, I encourage you to visit the websites of the International Rhino Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund to find out how you can help save them.

Stuart Gibbs used to study capybaras, the world’s largest rodent. Now he writes popular middle grade novels, including the Spy School series. His mysteries Belly Up, Poached, Panda-monium, and Big Game all center around extraordinary species in serious trouble. Stuart even has a special page on his website called “Save the World!” Check it out and find his books at www.stuartgibbs.com.

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