MEET James MWENDA, KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT THE 2019 'RHINOS ROAD TO RECOVERY' AND CARER OF THE LAST TWO NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS IN THE WORLD

“We cannot just sit and look and let them walk this road of extinction.
It’s sad to be at the edge of this. It’s hard to comprehend that this is the truth; these are the last two of their kind.
The sad reality of what Sudan stood for was a real picture of what extinction looked like.”

HELPING RHINOS: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A RHINO RANGER?

James Mwenda: I’ve been a rhino caretaker at Ol Pejeta Conservancy for four and a half years. I look after Najin, the eldest northern white (28), Fatu, the youngest northern white (18) and Tauwo, a southern white (23).

HR: BEFORE JOINING OL PEJETA, WHAT DID YOU DO?

JM: I had just finished high school. I unfortunately couldn’t go to University to study conservation, so I looked for a job to complement my dream of being a conservationist that I’ve had since being a young boy. I got the chance to come and work at Ol Pejeta.

HR: WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?

JM: I am committing myself to making sure these animals are safe, protected and looked after, but mostly, making sure that these last two northern white rhino’s voices, and what they stand for, are represented.

It’s very humbling for me to be taking care of the very last northern white rhinos. The fact that they are close to extinction and the last remaining animals of their species can be overwhelming for me at times. I gave my best working close to Sudan, the recently deceased last male northern white rhino, taking care of him and making sure he was safe.

Because there are only two left, it makes you think far beyond the essence of just taking care of them. I’m worried about their future, what will become of them and whether they’ll get the chance to get back on track.

I also believe northern white rhinos represent endangered species and are an eye opener to the consequences of what we are pushing them towards. There is so much more we need to do, otherwise southern white and black rhinos will face the same threat.

HR: WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART?

JM: The hardest part is the realisation of how extreme we have gone towards pushing Northern White rhinos towards extinction, especially having been very close to Sudan, the last northern white male. It’s sad to be at the edge of this. It’s hard to comprehend that this is the truth; these are the last two. When I look up at them I try to have hope that scientific intervention is going to save them.

It’s difficult to comprehend that we are the ones who have done this to an entire sub species. Yet we still have not changed. Extinction is being declared every day. We’re hearing of new species being on the verge of extinction every day, and it’s sad to be part of the near extinction of a species.

I’m scared this will continue to so many other species. It’s very scary what is actually happening in the wild now.

HR: WHY DO RHINOS NEED OUR HELP?

JM: They cannot fight for themselves so we need to make sure they are protected. They deserve an equal right of existence and some hope for their future so right now they need so much help from us. We cannot just sit and look and let them walk this road of extinction.

HR: WHAT WAS IT LIKE SPENDING EVERY DAY WITH SUDAN?

JM: It was emotionally draining wondering what would become of him. My eyes were opened to the reality and I realised caretaking was more than just a job. It was much more than that. The sad reality of what Sudan stood for was a real picture of what extinction looked like.

I wonder to myself why are we doing this? What should we do? What lessons do we need to learn from this? Is the world learning from him? He represented much more than just one rhino. What he stood for is huge.

HR: WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO?

JM: I hope that IVF will be a remedy. We also need to push the agenda that extinction is real and is tangible. It can be seen and heard through these rhinos. We need to let the world see what is happening through them. We need to rise up now before it’s too late. Rhinos can be seen, but the smaller species who cannot be seen are suffering too, so rhinos are a good lesson and reminder for us about the bigger problem too. We need to do more and be better versions of ourselves.

HR: ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO COMING TO LONDON FOR THE HELPING RHINOS TALK?

JM: I’m very much looking forward to it. I made a promise to Sudan and I now have a platform to represent him. I’m looking forward to the people I meet so I can share the story of my friend. I hope the story of the northern white rhino will inspire people to do more and realise that we do not have much time left. The time is now to save endangered species and ensure their future is granted through our actions and commitment.

James was talking to Kate Lee
Photo: Ben Harris