Why did you take the rhino away from me?


Grown-up Angry Kid

When I was kid, I grew up watching Hikayat Sang Kanchil. That was the first wave of affection I had for the Malaysian jungle and its fauna, without even realising this affection at that young age.

I was equally fascinated with dinosaurs and I really wanted to see one. Among all, I liked ceratopsians the most. My mother told me that dinosaurs were no more there for me to see; that they were extinct. I was too young to understand the meaning of extinction. All I knew was that I would never have a direct sighting of a ceratopsian in my life.

However, I spotted similar wildlife which were, and still are, around – the rhinoceros. Since that moment I really felt happy. Even now as a grown up, this excitement that I had about rhinos when I was a kid persists and I spend time looking at any image or footage of the rhinoceros.

In my early 20s, I learned that there were two species of rhinoceros in Malaysia and that really got the kid inside me excited. Soon I learned one of it, the Javan Rhino, had long become extinct and that we only have the Sumatran rhino left. So, I thought there was still some hope that I would get to see this rhino.

Later, I became a wildlife biologist focusing on tiger conservation. Although my work was on tiger conservation, I always hoped to see a wild rhino in the Malaysian jungle, to at least get a glance. Even indirect signs such as tracks or dung would provide satisfaction to the kid in me which grew up loving rhinos. This childish feeling to sight a wild rhino has never left me.

Alas, all these years in the Malaysian jungle, I have never seen or recorded any sign of any rhino. Now, I am in my early 30s and I can no longer trek into the jungle for weeks as I had done eight years ago. The chance of me seeing any wild rhino in the Malaysian jungle is practically zero.

Just a few years ago, I read a piece of news that rhinos were functionally extinct in Peninsular Malaysia. Recently, I was saddened by the news of Puntung, a female Sumatran rhino, being put to sleep due to cancer (The Star Online, June 4, 2017).

As an adult, I can understand this tragedy that has befallen rhinos in Malaysia. But the kid inside me isn’t satisfied. This child within still wants to see rhinos roaming free in the Malaysian jungle. I suppose time will supress this impossible desire.

But I started to think, what if future generations have the same desire? What if my own kids in future asked me to show a living rhino? Unlike dinosaurs, rhinos in Malaysia are not extinct due to natural disasters. As a conservationist, how can I justify to my kids in future that I failed to conserve this unique creature?

Should I just blame the lack of political will in Malaysia? Or should I blame this race for developing the country which pawns the very wildlife of Malaysia? Who should I point to and tell my kids: These are the people responsible for the extinction of rhinos in Malaysia? What other wildlife extinction would I have to observe during my lifetime? I’m ashamed to face the future generations of Malaysia.

This letter is the outcome of the anger of the kid inside me.

Grown-up Angry Kid is a FMT reader.

With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.