in passing // BILL COFFIN
The western black rhino (extinct 2013)
THE WESTERN BLACK RHINOCEROS (Diceros
bicornis longipes) emerged some seven or eight million
years ago, as one of the sub-species of the black rhino.
it used to be distributed widely throughout the savannah
of Central Western africa, but its numbers began to drop
sharply once humans decided to hunt the creatures for
sport and harvest their horns, which were believed to
have pharmacological uses, including as an aphrodisiac.
For much of the 20th century, black rhino numbers were
among the highest of all rhino species, with some 850,000
individuals. By 1960, though, those numbers dropped to
a mere 100,000 as the rhinos’ habitats were cleared for
land settlement and agriculture and as the creatures
themselves were hunted without mercy for their valuable
horns. By 1995, those meager numbers had dropped by a
further 98 percent, at which point there were fewer than
2,500 across all of africa. The western black rhino, whose
remaining numbers were in Cameroon, entered into
conservation, but it was too little, too late to stop those
who had far more resources and incentive to kill these
animals than those tasked with protecting them.
in the end, poaching is probably what spelled the
western black rhino’s final doom. Despite their dwindling
numbers, a strong demand for their horn remained in
southeast asia, to such an extent that at one point, some
conservationists advocated the removal of rhinos’ horns
to make them less tempting to poachers. Ultimately, the
animals could not be protected in the wild. Even when
sanctuaries were created for them, droughts drove the
animals off the reservation, where more bullets awaited.
The international Union for Conservation of nature had
the western black rhino on the business end of its “red
list” of endangered species for some years, and the last
one in the wild was sighted in 2006. it had been considered extinct unofficially for a few years, but only recently
was the book officially closed on the species.
The western black rhino was not some species too
specialized to survive, outside of contact with humans.
it was nearsighted, but lived symbiotically with birds,
which warned of danger. it was slow, but it was armored
against predators. it was a grazer, but when riled, it could
overturn a vehicle with a single, well-placed charge. all
it took, really, was for humanity to learn of its existence,
and that was that. The same could be said for just about
any other species on the planet, which seems like an awful
tragedy waiting to happen.
The extinction of this animal serves as an ecological
cautionary tale, true, but it also serves as a professional
one. Habitat destruction—a poor economy and low interest
rates—rob the life and health insurance industry of the resources it needs to recover fully from the great Recession.
poaching—in the form of intense competition from other
distribution channels—is no less a threat to producers than
horn hunting was to the rhino. and the reasons for it might
be just as dubious; ground rhino horn won’t really give you
a better love life any more than buying insurance online
will really get you a financial strategy tailor-made for your
family’s specific needs.
Likewise, poor conservation efforts—namely the failure to recruit sufficient new talent—is already creating a
personnel gap that will prove calamitous when all those
Boomer producers retire and take their expertise with them
without anybody to pass it to.
Ultimately, the rhino wasn’t equipped to save itself, and
neither are life/health producers. Without the support they
need from carriers, regulators and the public, the record
low life sales that LiMRa points out might just be one more
footstep on a march into oblivion. But it doesn’t have to be
that way. Just as the western black rhino was being declared extinct, a new species of wren called the Cambodian
Tailorbird has been discovered, and right in the heart of the
capital city of phnom penh, no less. The future will only be
as dark as we let it be.