Yesterday was sad. A big headline in the L.A. Times said: “Last male northern white rhino dies.” Sudan, 45 and in failing health, was euthanized at a wildlife refuge in Kenya. It was hoped he would produce offspring with the last two female northern white rhinos, Fatu and Najin, but alas, it was not to be. Najin and Fatu are two Eves without an Adam, and the species will die with them.
All rhino populations in Africa are under intense pressure by poachers trying to satisfy the insatiable hunger of horny old Chinese men for ground rhino horn, an alleged aphrodisiac. So the northern white rhino will soon join passenger pigeons, Tasmanian tigers, Falkland Island wolves, and all those countless other species that have been driven into extinction by human beings in their relentless march toward…what? I’ve never been sure. A bigger and bigger GNP perhaps?
Something else was sad yesterday: one of my squirrels died. Several squirrels hang out in the twisty trees and vegetation of our front yard, and twice a day I feed them walnuts. Tuesday is trash-pick-up day on our street, and late in the afternoon I went out to bring in the empty trash containers. I’d grabbed the first one when I saw a squirrel in the middle of the street lying on its side jerking and twitching. It had obviously just been hit by a car. Another squirrel was also in the street, looking at the first squirrel, moving toward it and away from it in a sort of anxious little dance. What was it feeling? I don’t know. Maybe what you or I would feel if a friend had just been hit by a car.
The first squirrel quit twitching and lay still, but the other squirrel remained in the street. It could get hit by a car too if it didn’t move. I hurried inside and grabbed some paper towels and went back out and gently picked up the dead squirrel. I was struck by how limp, how utterly relaxed its body was. Living bodies aren’t like that, and dead bodies don’t stay that way long before they start to stiffen up.
It was a big, fat squirrel and I was afraid it was my favorite: the brave audacious one that would come right up to me and take walnuts from my hand, putting a paw on one of my fingers for support. I carried the poor broken thing away from the street as the other squirrel followed and became lost in the tangle of trees in the yard.
I woke up about three o’clock last night. Couldn’t get back to sleep. I was thinking about the squirrel. It was clear to me I had indirectly caused its death. The squirrels always come running when they see me because I’m the guy with the nuts, and I’ve always been nervous one of them would cross the street and get hit by a car. If I’d come out just seconds earlier or seconds later to bring in the trash containers, the squirrel would have been fine; the timing had to be precise for car and squirrel to meet.
I know many people consider squirrels to be pests and rats with bushy tails and all that, but I’ve always loved squirrels and found them beautiful. Since the beginning of time there have been billions of squirrels and the death of one may not seem to count for much, but there have been billions of us too, and I believe our lives, and all lives, count. When the last male northern white rhino dies, the world takes note, but people don’t care enough about the deaths of common, little creatures. “Squirrel Killed While Crossing Street” is never going to be the headline in any newspaper, but it was the headline of the day for me.