We'll start with a tale from the animal kingdom. The rhinoceroses population in South Africa is struggling in a big way, and strangely enough, mythical and magical powers are to blame...at least indirectly. Poachers have been more active in rhino hunting in recent years as demand for rhino horns has soared. While the horns don't off much in the way of practical uses, some African and Southeast Asian cultures believe the horns have special medicinal or magical powers, and people are willing to pay top dollar.
With the increase in poaching activity, conservation groups have upped their efforts to save the rhinos. Some groups have tried removing the horns from living rhinos to beat the poachers to the punch. The horns, much like human hair or finger nails, grow back after a few months.
Other conservationists are experimenting with a process that involves placing a poison capsule into the horns of living rhinos. If poachers kill the rhino and remove the horn, the capsule releases the poison and makes the horn useless for its intended medicinal purposes. How the poachers know the rhino has a poison capsule in its horn before killing the animal, I have no idea...but there must be a way.
Now here's where the tragic and ironic death part of the story comes into play. Early in February, a group of conservationists in South Africa called together members of the press to watch them sedate a rhino and insert one of these anti-poaching poison capsules into its horn. But there was one major problem with this noble effort to save the rhino's live: the outcome was the exact opposite of what the conservationists had hoped to achieve.
When the group shot Spencer the rhino with a dart full of anesthesia, he started convulsing, went to sleep, and never woke up. Oops! One of the would-be rhino rescuers called it, "an unfortunate reaction to the anesthesia," recognizing that there is always a risk that an animal may not wake up after being tranquilized. We can all take comfort in knowing that Spencer lead a long and full life--like me, he was in his mid- to late-20s, which is apparently old for a rhinoceros. The saddest part is that he was three days from retirement when they darted him.
Such tragic endings aren't limited to the animal world. Two months after Spencer's passing, a Russian plane carrying fifty people went missing after the tower lost radio contact with the pilots. The next day, a search team turned up debris from the plane in the mountains of Indonesia, with no survivors. The aircraft was a new type of passenger jet called the Superjet 100, though aviation experts have since agreed that the plane was significantly less super than the name implied.
Not the intended landing site.
Aside from the sad loss of life, the crash of the Superjet also crushed the hopes and dreams of the Russian aviation industry, which has struggled with safety and quality issues since it's glory days as the USSR. The Superjet 100's manufacturer, a company called Sukhoi that's run by the Russian government, has been trying to overcome the country's troubled history in flight and convince other nations to purchase its aircraft. The Superjet was the first new passenger jet to come out of Russia since the USSR days, but this headline-grabbing debut doesn't bode well for sales. Who says all publicity is good publicity?
Once again, that's where the ironic part of the tragedy comes into play. That plane that went nose-first into the Indonesian volcano was on a demonstration flight intended to prove the safety and comfort of the new aircraft. As such, it was full of journalists, business people, and aircraft technicians, and pilots. If this doesn't convince the world to scoop up all the Russian aircraft they can afford, I don't know what will. But hey, I bet you can pick up a Russian-made plane for pennies on the dollar right about now...
At least Spencer lived a long life and got to go relatively peacefully. I'm sure there were plenty of young people among the fifty killed on the mountainside in Indonesia, and "peaceful" and "plane crash" are the oil and water of the aviation industry. What a sad an unlikely combination...a rhino that gets killed in the name of preventing rhino killings, and a plane that crashes on a safety demonstration flight. At all those affected got to leave a lasting impression on the world with an entertaining final chapter to their lives.
Here are some links to the stories: