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A Great Book Full of Real-World Disappointment
on July 23, 2012
I hesitated to give this book a high rating because it wasn't what I was hoping for: an account of the way intrepid humans saved a bunch of rhinoceroses, filled with charming anecdotes about rhino behavior. I don't know what I was thinking when I expected that, because I know the situation for all the rhino species is unspeakably dire. Co-author Graham Spence says he thought of calling the book "Blood Horn" and that might have been a more direct approach to indicate that this book is, at least in part, an outraged call to action. The Last Rhinos as a title feels contemplative and wistful, as if there is nothing left to be done, and unfortunately, that is the attitude that too many people are already taking. There are only three rhinos in this entire book. Lawrence Anthony never even gets to meet a single member of the subspecies he's trying to save before they're utterly gone. Instead of the happy stories I somehow expected, this book is a fact-and-experience-based indictment of the fatal disregard humans have for the other species on this planet.
A single anecdote about the rhino who lives in Thula Thula, Anthony's reserve in South Africa, serves to belie the idea that rhinos are not intelligent or adaptable, and I will treasure that. Perhaps to try and make up for the general lack of rhino experiences, Anthony intersperses what becomes a bizarre and scary narrative of human politics with incidents involving elephants, bushbabies, buffalo, and other wonderful animals. All the stories point to his deep belief that animals are as worthy as humans to occupy their space and live undisturbed. At a couple of points, he comments that any person who spends enough time with animals will witness evidence of their intelligence and sociability. There are also many examples that make the reader appreciate the difficulty of the life of conservationists in the wild and the talent and bravery of people who work with endangered animals.
The beginning and much of the rest of the book kept me on the edge of my seat with exciting, suspenseful and true occurrences, definitely material for the cinema. Please, someone, make a movie of this book (perhaps with a few more darling rhinos in the film version) and show it to people who consume rhino horn.
Because Anthony does not accomplish any of his goals for the rhinos. Absolutely everything goes badly wrong, often causing physical reactions in this reader. To top it all off, before the book was published, Lawrence Anthony passed away, and the animals lost their incredible champion. We're still here, and we need to step in for them because, incredibly, these half-ton, armored creatures with giant swords on their heads can't defend themselves from human greed. There's still a chance to turn this sad story around for the remaining rhinos.
The Northern White Rhino is the largest animal to go extinct since the woolly mammoth.