We've lost one and the world is a lesser place for it.
Today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western Black Rhinoceros of Africa officially extinct.
In addition, two other sub-species of rhinos are being considered as most likely gone. The Northern White Rhino of central Africa is considered "possibly extinct" in the wild, and the Javan Rhino is "probably extinct" in Viet Nam (a small population is still holding on in Java, but their numbers are declining).
Rhino populations have suffered for decades due to habitat loss and, in particular, poaching. The demand for rhinoceros horn as a homeopathic cure in Eastern medicine, ranging from cancer cures to an aphrodisiac, has lead poachers to track down rhinos within supposedly protected animal reserves. The same situation is putting tigers and Asian bears at a high level of risk also.
When the population of a particular species gets low enough, several factors come into play that can cause their numbers to rapidly decline, spinning out of control. Lack of sexually mature males and females; bio-dispersion, whereby the population is now so diverse the odds of an encounter between a male and a female become more remote; poor health due to a lack of good mixing of the DNA gene pool - all begin to work against the few remaining animals.
"In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino, the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented," he added. "These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction," said Simon Stuart of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
But all is not a total loss for one of wild nature's iconic species. Although a quarter of all mammal species are facing extinction, according to the IUCN's Red List, when conservation measures are put in place and effectively managed and enforced, there can be positive results. Case in point: Africa's Southern White Rhino had reached a perilous low of around 100 animals at the end of the 19th century - a victim of both poaching and "great white hunters." But today the Southern White Rhino numbers over 20,000.
In Nature, any extinction is a loss - from a small insect to a massive animal like a rhino. The biological web that ties all species together within an ecosystem makes adjustments for the loss and sometimes those adjustments cascade through several different flora and fauna as it looks for some sort of stability. Whether the changes are subtle or catastrophic, they are changes at the hand of man, changes that nature was never truly prepared to deal with.
When we lose the Western Black Rhino, we lose a little bit of ourselves, of our potential as stewards of the environment.