It would be tough being the last Mohican. You’d want to leave sooner rather than later. You’d get itchy feet every spring. You’d find it harder each week just to wait until your pay cheque. No one wants to be the last one to leave of the very last ones left. Though I’d like to think you’d ask around a bit first, just to be sure. There might be another like you somewhere, eking out a meagre existence at the white man’s car wash, living in the trailer park down by the estuary with the Mexican clam farmers. Or maybe a Mohican girl escaped the cull. There’s always a chance. You could start over again, just the two of you, become a protected species and live on welfare. You’d form a neo-punk band (what a contradiction in terms!) and call it “Buffalo Bits”. There might even be some kind of future after “no future”, after all!
Sad about the tigers, though. All those bounty-mounties riding out across the bleak Ohioan landscape to execute seventeen of the only truly beautiful creatures to be found there outside suburbia. What kind of troubled sad sack needs to commit suicide so bad, he can’t even make a phone call to the local zoo first, or tell the cleaner: “By the way Juanita, you’ll need to give the Bengalis and the snow leopard their lunch once you’ve done getting the blood off the bathroom wall and finished drip-feeding the orchids. If there’s not enough of me to go round, the poodles and the Rottweiler will do nicely!” Fade to black.
Extinction: we all face it sooner or later. For most of us it will merely be personal. We’ll still be able to look around the room at a large, if blurry, circle of familiar faces – our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, step children, in-laws and out-laws of every possible type, all the bifurcated ramifications of family history. For others, like the West-African black rhino, it will be more of a species thing. Either the short sharp shock of the poacher’s rifle or the long and increasingly desperate search for the mate you once had but can no longer find or the mysteriously mislaid offspring.
But that was long ago, and now your eyes, never exactly sharp, are matched by the obtuseness of the other senses that used to be so keen. You are the last of your kind. You don’t know it for a certainty. You were always an uncertain beast. You have habitually compromised speed with invulnerability, power with cunning. Now you have none of the above and the vultures are circling closer than usual. Yours is the most solitary destiny and you are dying for nothing more than a nation’s inability to look after its own and the world’s inability to effectively legislate and police a sordid trade in death by degrees.
All parts of the pig are good, say the Chinese, proud of their frugality. All parts of the rhino are too, as long as it’s alive. Unfortunately, once dead, the only parts of a rhino that are considered valuable enough to be removed from the giant carcass left to rot by the poachers are the horn and the penis. A month or two will pass before a few dozen Chinese millionaires come together to haggle in a back room for the aromatic dust of what used to adorn your nose. They are definitely not threatened with extinction, unfortunately, but they are tired of unfavourably comparing themselves to the massively well-equipped black bucks they see on the pay-per-view porn channels. But salvation is in reach. The ridiculous quacks they believe in have told them that such virility can be theirs for the price of a milligram of rhino horn distilled in rice wine mornings and evenings for three moons. It doesn’t work, of course, but when did truth ever get in the way of a good myth? As for the phallus: rhino pizzle is used to make a whip that is much prized by mega-rich aficionados of the more exclusive sort of S&M scene. It looks like a rather oversized riding crop and doubtless makes the scrawny little millionaire bastards feel even more powerful, just in case all that black leather and hogtied teens hadn’t already done the trick.
You stand on the edge of town, backlit by the glare from the refinery and run your fingers once again through your stiff crest. You read somewhere that the seventeen martyred tigers were the tiger population equivalent of 50 million humans. That would make the Black Rhino the equivalent of planetary meltdown. So what would you be the equivalent of: a chicken dinner? A crate of beer and three hotdogs, a returned engagement ring from Sears, a rusty old Trans-Am propped up on a dozen bricks, a whole humdrum life of economic servitude? But it would be dumb if you were too hasty to end it all, rising untimely to meet the bullet, slipping boneless and skinny over the little weir and into the half concealed culvert with the departing flood waters. Maybe there are some brothers and sisters up North. You will go beyond the snow line and meet them this spring or meet with nothing at all. You will leave this poisoned land of the free. You will find the home of the brave.
© Edwin Drood
, November 2011
Rhinoceros, woodcut made by Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531) in Augsburg in 1515.
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, Austria.
Frontispiece by Frank Thayer Merrill (1848–1936) of the 1896 edition of The last of the Mohicans
by James Fenimore Cooper (first published 1826).