By any measure, Remembering Rhinos, a Kickstarter-funded photo book for charity, is an eye-opener. Sixty-five prominent wildlife photographers, including many of the leaders in their respective fields, have donated one of their prized images to the coffee-table book, all in the name of raising funds for rhino conservation.
The Kickstarter campaign, launched earlier this year achieved its initial goal in near-record time. It didn’t stop there, either. Galvanized by public opinion and a growing sense of outrage at what is happening to our planet, it grew from there, much like a baby rhino that has finally found a safe home in which to grow up in the wild.
Remembering Rhinos will be officially unveiled Wednesday at an evening champagne reception at London’s prestigious — and historic — Royal Geographical Society, a Victorian-era redbrick home tucked behind the Natural History Museum in Kensington. It’s from these very halls that 19th century explorers plotted and mapped early expeditions deep into Africa’s interior. The idea of unveiling a coffee-table book dedicated to saving Africa and Asia’s remaining rhinos at the Royal Geographical Society in the 21st century seems entirely appropriate somehow.
Remembering Rhinos is a follow-up to 2016’s successful Remembering Elephants, which raised some USD $200,000 in the war against ivory poaching. Remembering Rhinos is more than that, though. It seems more urgent. More pressing.
The situation facing rhinos in 2017 is desperate. The illegal trade in rhino horn — driven by superstition, ignorance and a thriving black market in emerging economies in Southeast Asia and China — threatens to wipe out one of the planet’s oldest, longest-surviving land mammals, an animal so deeply buried in the human imagination that virtually anyone can recognize a rhino at a brief glance.
The photographers represented in the book include freelance photographers, staffers for some of the world’s leading nature periodicals and international award winners. They may not be household names outside the nature community, but they represent some of the most respected photographers working in the field today — Mike Muizebelt, Steve Winter, Greg du Toit, Frans Lanting, Piper Mckay, James Warwick, David Lloyd, Ayesha Cantor, Jan van der Greef, Will Burrard-Lucas, Marina Cano, Hilary Hann, Remembering Rhinos founder-editor Margo Raggett, and countless others.
“Everyone in the wildlife world is sick to their back teeth of animals being treated like commodities and slaughtered on a daily basis for their horns, tusks or whatever other body part the . . . market in the Far East seems to crave,” Raggett explained, when launching her Kickstarter campaign.
“Our book hit a nerve as a way for photographers and animal lovers to unite and do something positive to stand up to poachers. We don’t want to see these species wiped out in our lifetime.”
The Remembering Rhinos campaign has drawn numerous nigh-profile celebrities, from film actors Michelle Pfeiffer and Russell Crowe to comedian and animal-rights campaigner Ricky Gervais, Mad Men ensemble player Jared Harris and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
Virginia McKenna, a lifelong animal-rights campaigner, former model and actor who starred in the 1966 film Born Free, and Will Travers OBE, president of the Born Free Foundation, are closely involved.
Travers will introduce Wednesday’s reception.
The keynote speaker is Steve Winter, veteran wildlife photographer and lecturer with the National Geographic Society and a former winner of the Natural History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. Winter was a nominee again this year, for his sad, haunting image of a captured, caged Sumatran tiger that had just had its hind leg amputated to save its life.
The idea behind Remembering Rhinos was to produce the most beautiful, memorable book about rhinos possible, in the hopes that, decades and centuries from now, photographic images won’t be all future generations have to remember rhinos by.
All proceeds from sales of the book go toward protecting rhinos in Africa and Asia.
The World Wildlife Fund’s official website (worldwildlife.org) notes that rhinos once roamed freely throughout Eurasia and Africa. They were known to early Europeans, who depicted them in cave paintings, and frequented savannah grasslands and tropical forests throughout Africa and Asia.
Today, very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Two species of Asian rhinos — the Javan and Sumatran rhinos — are officially classified on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species as Critically Endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011.
Conservation efforts have helped a third Asian species, the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino, to increase in number, albeit slightly. Their status has been upgraded to Vulnerable from Endangered, but Indian rhinos are still poached for their horns.
In Africa, Southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as Near Threatened. A surge in land invasions and poaching raids in the past year by heavily armed crime syndicates in South Africa now threaten even the most protected sanctuaries, however.
The Northern white rhino subspecies is now believed to be extinct in the wild, and only a few captive individuals remain in a sanctuary in Kenya — also threatened by poaching.
Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals in the mid-1990s, but their total numbers are still a tiny fraction of the estimated 100,000 that roamed across Africa’s grasslands in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century.
“We simply cannot let extinction happen on our watch,” Raggett said simply.
It will take more than a book to prevent that, of course, but every bit helps. Especially when the book is as elegant and hard-to-forget as Remembering Rhinos.
Wildlife Photographers United
£45, 144 pages, hardback