I timed my trip to Los Angeles to coincide with an important event put on by zookeepers every year at zoos all over the country. Zookeepers are not isolated people who care only about the animals at their zoos, they are conservationists deeply concerned with the survival of these animals in their wild habitats. They are not the best paid people in the world, but they can convince zoo volunteers and paid personnel to volunteer their time to raise money to send to parks in Africa and Indonesia to support all five of the remaining rhino species.
Thus was born “Bowling for Rhinos,” a national bowl-a-thon that answers the question, “Can a charity event that donates 100% of the money it raises to save rhinos and their habitats be more fun than any party has a right to be?”
The answer is, “You bet!”
Unfortunately for rhinos, not everyone appreciates their unique personalities and body design. People who make money by selling animal parts have decided that rhino horn is a cure for cancer. Their horns are made of keratin, the material that our fingernails are made of, but to ignorant people susceptible to fairy tales, keratin may be the miracle drug. They may as well chew their fingernails.
Rhinos are now in so much danger that zoos are putting special guards on their rhino exhibits. Even stuffed heads of rhinos hanging from the walls of hunters have been vandalized for the horns. Rhinos in the wild are disappearing with terrifying dispatch; in South Africa alone, almost two rhinos are being killed every day.
There are five species of rhinoceros: black rhino, white rhino, Indian rhino, Javan rhino and Sumatran rhino. I once went with a group of docents, keepers and friends to see Sumatran rhinos that were being held in a zoo in Malaysia. Did I tell you that zoo people plan their vacation trips around what animals they can see? Sumatran rhinos are smallish, hairy, and very talkative, making a sound that reminded me of humpback whales. They are harmless animals that can not cure any disease.
Last year, the Javan rhino became extinct in Viet Nam, and the African Western black rhino was also added to the growing list of extinct species. They are lost forever because of the greed and ignorance of human beings. Every time we lose a species, the world is diminished; it can never be restored to completeness.
So Bowling for Rhinos is one chance for humans to show that there are plenty of people who do care about these animals, who do not want to live in a world without them, people who may never see a rhino in the wild but who want to be assured that they are still there. I always cringe when I hear someone ask, “What does this animal contribute to the world?” No non-human animal has ever produced world wars, or Holocausts or Great Inquisitions, those contributions are specifically human. But they do give us a glimpse of the timeless beauty that we can still see in the world if we keep our eyes and our hearts open.