Australian husband-and-wife sculptors and eco-warriors Gillie and Marc Schattner sought to make a statement when they installed “Goodbye Rhinos: The Last Three,” a life-size rendering of the last three living northern white rhinos — females Najin and Fatu and male Sudan — balancing one on top of the other in Astor Plaza. They got even more attention than they expected when shortly after the installation, forty-five-year-old Sudan died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Sponsored by Nat Geo Wild, the tallest rhino sculpture in the world was created “to inspire, educate, and mobilise a global community to raise their voices and affect real change against rhino horn sales,” according to the Schattners’ website. Gillie and Marc spent time with Sudan, his daughter Najin, and his granddaughter Fatu in March 2017; you can watch a video of their interactions with the three rhinos and the making of the sculpture here. Sudan was too old to mate, and Najin and Fatu are infertile, so they can’t even breed with the other four species of rhinos; thus, nothing can be done about their impending extinction except to raise awareness and funds to prevent the end of other animals, particularly those that are illegally poached for their horns or tusks, supposed medicinal benefits, or trophies for hunters.
“In urban environments, it’s easy for humans to forget our impact on the world,” Gillie said in a statement. “Marc and I believe it’s never been more critical to connect people to nature so that we’re visibly confronted with what we’re doing to the planet.” Gillie and Marc, who have worked together for more than twenty-five years, have taken their “Travel with Love” public art project around the world, featuring anthropomorphized crabs, paparazzi dogs, Taz the Tasmanian tiger, various magpies, and their characters Dogman and Rabbitgirl. “Our mission is to collect at least one million goodbye messages and put them towards a petition for approaching governments about eliminating the demand for rhino horns through education,” Gillie added, encouraging people to post photos on social media, use their app, donate to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and go to Kenya to see Najin and Fatu. Trophy hunting is moving artists to take action in many ways; coincidentally, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s powerful new play, Mlima’s Tale, about the killing of a beloved elephant for his massive tusks, is running at the Public, just down the street from “The Last Three,” through June 3.