Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Microstory 792: Sharp Top

The sharptop prairie bear is one of the rarest animals in the world. To most people’s knowledge, the prairie bear is not a bear at all, but a subspecies of the rhinoceros family. And like other rhinoceroses, it has been hunted vehemently for its horn. Unlike other rhinos, however, it is distinguished by a thick coat of fur, reminiscent of the prehistoric woolly rhino. While other conservationists are championing the protection of the other types of rhinos, few are concerned with the sharptop’s plight, and with not illogical reason. Sharptops are powerful and violent beasts, known for raiding nonthreatening camps, and rampaging against safari vehicles. They are a relative outlier in the animal kingdom in that they will attack totally unprovoked. Evolutionary biologists believe that this actually serves a purpose for survival. Though now apex predators, they were believed to have once been hunted by the giant firetigers that once roamed their lands. In order to survive, sharptops adapted their digestive system so they could consume both plants, and other animals. At some point in their development, they decided to stop eating plants, and are the only carnivorous rhino alive today. Still, the giant firetiger was spry and cunning, and continued to stalk their prey relentlessly, so the sharptop had to change again by maintaining a constant state of acute stress response. Basically, they are hyperaware of their environment, and can be set off by the slightest movement. Though their horns are relatively small, they are unique, and prized amongst poachers for how dangerous and difficult it is to procure one. And so they are an endangered species, but one that is left largely unaided by the nonprofit community. Seeing this as wrong, Algerian conservationist and veterinary pathologist, Narimane Kateb has devoted her life to curing the sharptop prairie bear’s perpetual tension. Her goal is to sway public opinion on the animal, and gather funding to improve the species’ population. And she’s almost done it.

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