In 2006, there were possibly as many as 15 northern white rhino left in the wild—and, spearheaded by renowned conservationist Lawrence Anthony, a strong movement to protect the species. Today, the white rhino is thought to be extinct in the wild. What happened in those six years is a tragic example of the challenges conservation initiatives face around the world.
Anthony managed to secure the required experts and even funding to launch a full-scale conservation mission for the rhinos. This included equipment like helicopters and dart guns, and conservationists and officers to oversee the plans. The Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa supported the project. The Environmental Minister in the DRC was also onboard. So too was a non-profit group called African Parks, which effectively was responsible for the management of Garamba National Park were the rhinos lived.
Everything seemed to be in place, but when the proposal was officially submitted, it found resistance from an unlikely source. The ICCN—oddly enough, the Congolese government agency responsible for conservation—cautiously waylaid the project, asking for confirmation that African Parks had agreed to the plan.
"We immediately contacted the ICCN and informed them of African Parks' decision. A few days later we received a response saying that they agreed to the rescue provided African Parks agreed," Anthony explains in his new book The Last Rhinos, "But they have agreed, we replied. And with that the ridiculous merry-go-round started again and we were unable to make any more progress."
The end result, unfortunately, was that the subspecies reached a point of likely extinction in the wild. The sad story offers some insight into the delicate nature of conservation projects—and how, with so many moving pieces, it's very easy for the whole thing to fail.