Goodbye Rhinos

Guest Post by Kim Chaloner, Dean of Community Life & Science Teacher

While focused on marching with our inspiring student leaders to oppose gun violence yesterday, and contemplating the awful costs of gun culture, I and some of the Grace community noticed an unusual site in Astor Place. Stacked in a solid and imposing 17 foot triplet, three bronze Northern White Rhinos arrived Wednesday, composing the largest rhino statue in the world. Their realistic forms, both delicately detailed and full of heavy meaning, told yet another story about gun violence and the need for our community’s attention to fight for a safe, sustainable and peaceful world.

“The Last Three” is a sculpture created by Gillie and Marc Art, public artists who have gained a reputation for making public sculpture a tool for conservation. As their website details, “Gillie and Marc’s coveted public artworks can be found all over the world including major cities such as Shanghai, New York and Sydney.” On Thursday morning, the couple, along with the Village Alliance, introduced the statue to the public. Having had the opportunity to meet the rhinos themselves, they created this piece to bring their story to the world.   

As the current Environmental Science teacher, I am all too well aware of the the gravity of these beautiful creatures’ personal stories, and this memorial to their waning existence. I was lucky enough to visit threatened Southern White Rhinos at Lake Nakuru Kenya in 2011 thanks to a Grace Faculty Travel Grant. These rhinos were brought back from the brink of extinction after hunting almost wiped them out, but the Northern White Rhinos will most likely be lost.  The Northern White Rhino, despite desperate efforts by the global community of conservation biologists, has only these three members left. Under armed guard at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya are Sudan, the last male, and his daughter and granddaughter, Najin and Fatu. These last three members of the subspecies represent the final victims of the brutal trade in rhino horns for mythical medicinal purposes, as well as hunting, poaching and habitat loss. As beacons of a global loss in species, said to be the sixth extinction as we see species going extinct at what is estimated to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates scientists have estimated.

I will certainly be bringing my students to Astor Place to, as the artists encouraged the public, feel and experience Sudan, Najin and Fatu. Speaking with INDE creators at the opening ceremonies, I learned that there is an iPhone app that allows kids traveling through Astor Place and walk with the rhinos to learn more about their plight, called INDE. Also, everyone is encouraged to write a goodbye message to the rhinos on the goodbye rhinos website, where notes to the species will be used to petition for better conservation practices.

Kim Chaloner is the Dean of Community Life at Grace and Environmental Science Teacher. One of the many roles she fills at Grace is coordinator of the school’s sustainability programming. Ms. Chaloner is in her nineteenth year at Grace Church School. Prior to working at Grace, Ms. Chaloner worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society.