The trio of animals look like they have fallen from the sky, landing one on top of the other in a crowded square in New York City. Standing at the bottom is Sudan, a northern white rhinoceros who until recently lived at a nature reserve in Kenya. On top of him, turned upside down, is Najin, a slightly smaller figure of a female rhino who happens to be Sudan’s daughter. And on top of her upturned legs sits Fatu, the youngest and smallest of the trio. She is Najin’s daughter and Sudan’s granddaughter.
The Last Three, an installation created by Australian artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, is a poignant portrait of an actual animal family and a species that will soon disappear from the face of the earth. The bronze rhinos are accurate in every detail, including the rough, wrinkled skin, although they are slightly larger than the real ones, Gillie says. Together, the three effigies form a tower of tribute―but equally important, they serve as a call to action, since the northern white rhinos of east and central Africa have been hunted to the brink of extinction. Their horns—touted to have medicinal powers—are considered to be among the most expensive substances on the planet, traded for more than the price of gold or cocaine in the markets of China and Vietnam. In fact, the protein that makes up rhino horn has no more potency than human fingernails.
And now there are two. While Gillie and Marc (who sign their works with their first names only) were unveiling their monumental rhino pyramid in New York on March 15, 45-year-old Sudan was taking his final breaths in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The trio of animals lived under a team of devoted caretakers and 24-hour armed guard to protect them from poachers. When Sudan’s age-related medical conditions grew significantly worse, veterinarians decided to euthanize him. In a last-ditch attempt to save the species, the trio had been transferred from a zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009, but efforts to breed the rhinos had failed. Sudan had a low sperm count, perhaps as a result of his advanced age, and Najin and Fatu both proved to have fertility issues that made reproduction impossible.