Killing Rhinos (and Stupidity in General)
Discarding Ridiculous Cultural Traditions
The last male Northern White Rhino died a few months ago. Only two females of the species (or subspecies if you prefer) remain. Humanity can now (almost) carve another little notch into its collective gun. We have managed to become, particularly in recent centuries, one of the greatest agents of mass extinction that this planet has ever known. Apparently, the earth has managed to produce a species too smart for the earth's (and maybe its own) good.
The more fundamental problem, however, may be that we are not smart enough. Sure, there have been legitimate reasons for humans throughout history to domesticate and kill animals. Like many of earth's creatures, we have been hunters since we came into existence. And while most of us aren't doing a lot of hunting any more, we are largely a species of meat, egg, and milk consumers. Also, through much of our history, certain animals could pose a threat, and even today in modern urban areas, our pets and sometimes even children are attacked by wild animals. There is an ongoing debate where I live in Southern California, for instance, regarding what should be done about our coyote problem.
The problem is that rhinos of all kinds are not being wiped out for meat or in the name of self-defense. Instead, they have basically been killed for their horns. Some of these horns are being used to make daggers or other highly prized tools or ornaments, but the bigger problem is that certain parts of the world believe that rhino horns have some sort of medical properties. Any legitimate doctor or scientist will tell you, however, that grinding up rhino horns to cure some ailment is about as productive as chewing your fingernails. Long ago, this baseless folk tradition should have been chucked onto the dust heap of history along with the many other stupid things that humans have believed at one time or another for thousands of years.
Some might say that the sentence preceding this one is culturally insensitive. That is fine with me. I don't have a big problem, necessarily, with cultural insensitivity. There are lots of things about my culture that I think are stupid, and I would be more than happy to agree with people of other cultures who point these things out. Accepting and respecting a cultural tradition simply because it is a cultural tradition is the very definition of stupidity. If humans always accepted without question the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors, we would still be living in caves. And given the potential destructive power of the human race today, ignorance is not just something we can laugh off. Stupidity is dangerous.
So long as there are people willing to pay a high price for things like rhino horns, poachers and businessmen will fill that demand, even though hunting these creatures into extinction is ultimately destroying their own business. As I said, many humans are not all that smart. Like every other creature that ever walked the planet, most humans tend to think little beyond their immediate short term interests. Ultimately, as I have written about before, we are just another animal.
So if people want to hang on to their folk traditions, it would be nice for the other residents of the planet if they would only maintain the harmless ones, the customs that don't involve killing things for no good reason. I personally like the idea of living in a world with a great deal of biodiversity. I would like my grandkids and their grandkids to live in a world where they can see amazing creatures in person. Biodiversity, after all, may ultimately prove to be one of the keys to our own long-term survival. And if nothing else, it makes the planet a lot more interesting.