The Rhinoceros is a critically endangered species that is considered by many to be a “modern dinosaur”. There are five different species of rhinos, the first being the White Rhino. The White Rhino is divided into two subspecies: the Northern White Rhino and the Southern White Rhino. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies them both as “Near Threatened”. Most white rhinos are found in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. They are distinct by their two white horns. Like most rhino’s, they have superb sense of hearing and smell, but poor eyesight. The white rhino weighs between 4,000-6,000 pounds and stands between five and six feet high at the shoulder. The white rhino can live up to fifty years. 1
The black rhino also has two horns, but despite its’ name, is not black in color. Black rhinos usually weigh between 1,750 pounds and 3,000 pounds and stand between 4 ½ to 5 ½ feet at the shoulder. They can be anywhere between 10 and 12 ½ feet in length. Despite their size, they can run up to 35 miles per hour, and can change direction very quickly. The black rhino can live forty-five years or longer in captivity, but usually only around thirty to thirty five in the wild. 2
The Indian, or Greater One-Horned Rhino, has one horn and is usually between eight and twenty four feet in length. This rhino is grayish color, and its’ skin forms distinctive folds around the body, making the rhino appear to be wearing plates of armor. The Indian Rhino is very fast and agile, and is the most aquatic of the species, spending sixty percent of their day in the water. Standing at approximately 5 ½-6 ½ feet at their shoulder, and approximately 10-12 ½ feet long, the Indian Rhino is approximately the same size as the White Rhino, and is considered to be the largest species of land mammal after the elephant. The Indian Rhino tends to live between thirty to forty five years in the wild, and around forty-seven years in captivity. 3
The Sumatran Rhino has two horns and a reddish brown skin color that is covered with coarse hair. It tends to grow into long shaggy fur, but when in the wild, the vegetation tends to rub the hair down. The Sumatran Rhino is the smallest of all rhino species, only standing between three to five feet high at the shoulder, and weighting between 1,300-2,000 pounds. It is usually between 6 ½-9-½ feet in length and able to spin 180 degrees in a single jump and are able to navigate steep slopes, riverbanks, and mountains with ease. The Sumatran Rhino can live between thirty and forty five years in the wild; the longest life span of a captive Sumatran Rhino is thirty-three years. 4
There are fewer than fifty Javan Rhinos left in only two known locations, and are possibly the most critically endangered mammal on earth. There are no Javan Rhinos in captivity. In Indonesia, there appears to be a stable population of Javan Rhinos, and there is also a small population of five to seven in Vietnam. The Javan Rhinos in Vietnam are a separate and smaller subspecies making it impossible for them to be crossbred. But, due to conservation efforts, there has not been a poaching of Javan Rhino for five years. The Javan Rhino has one horn, approximately ten inches long, and their skin has a mosaic patterning. They have distinctive folds of skin on their body, which look like plates of armor, and they have distinctive hair on the tip of the tail. The Javan Rhino needs to consume salt regularly to supplement their diet. In addition to visiting the salt licks formed by mineral seepages, Javan Rhinos drink seawater. They weigh between 2,000 - 5,000 pounds, and stand between five and five and a half feet at the shoulder. They can be 6 - 11 ½ feet in length. The smaller Vietnamese subspecies is similar in size to the Sumatran Rhino, standing only 3 - 5 feet high at the shoulder and weighing 1,300 - 2,000 pounds. They are quick and agile, and can make sharp turns in mid-air. They spend a large part of their day in the water, in mud holes, pools, and puddles. They live between thirty and forty-five years in the wild, but have not done well in captivity, only living around twenty years. There has not been a Javan Rhino in captivity since 1907. 5
The History of Rhino Poaching‚Ä®
Rhino poaching is, unfortunately, nothing new. Fifty million years ago, there were many diverse rhino species throughout the world including what was believed to be a twenty-foot long animal with a single seven-foot long horn. Between 350,000-8,000 years ago the furry woolly rhinoceros, a relative to the Sumatran rhinoceros, lived throughout northern Europe and eastern Asia, until they became extinct. Their extinction was believed to have been caused by human hunters. Between 1600 and 1900, hunters and habitat loss caused the Indian rhinoceros population to drastically decrease, as it is believed that by 1910, there were less than fifty found in India. In the late 1800s, the act of hunting for sport, and the need for the animal’s horn, almost wiped out the population of the white rhino, and left them facing probable extinction, with only twenty southern white rhinos in south Africa. In 1952, anti-poaching measures by the governments of India and Nepal were put into place, and the Indian rhino population began to climb. In 1961, “Operation Rhino”, a program to restore the southern White Rhino, began at the Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Southern White Rhinos were moved to this new protected location and their numbers began to climb. In 1970, it was estimated that the total population of all five species of rhinos had dropped ninety percent since historic times. This is mostly due to the demands for their horns. The only rhino that seems to be unaffected by poaching is that of the Black Rhino. But between 1970 and 1992, the Black Rhino population became victim to poaching and by 1993 there are only approximately 2,300 black rhinos in the wild. In 2001, Andalas, a male Sumatran rhino calf was born at the Cincinnati Zoo, the first ever to be born into captivity. In 2007, the wild rhino population was approximately 17,800, with another 1,160 living in captivity. 6
In 2011, the illegal poaching of rhinos continues. Rhino horn products are in high demand in China and Vietnam, mostly due to the myth about their medicinal properties. In actuality, science has proven that Rhino horn has the same medicinal effect as chewing human fingernails, which has no medicinal value. 7 At a recent meeting of global wildlife trade officials, Lixin Huang, the president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine issued the following statement, “some individuals and organizations with little understanding of the essence and modern development of T.C.M. misinterpret and exaggerate the medicinal properties of rhino horns,’’ she said. ‘‘There is no evidence that rhino horn is an effective cure for cancer and this is not documented in T.C.M. nor is it approved by the clinical research in traditional Chinese medicine… rhino horn is no longer approved for use by the traditional Chinese medicine profession.” 8 While the trade of horns is illegal under the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), demand is still high. While at the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, a discussion was held behind closed doors with regard to ivory trade. While in the meeting, nongovernmental organizations were voted to be shut out of the meeting, over the objection of Britain and Kenya. Luckily, that decision was overturned after a second vote. Dr. Colman O’Criodain, the World Wildlife Federation’s wildlife trade policy analyst was quoted as saying, “Attempts by some countries to evade scrutiny of their role in illegal trade only ensured that these countries are now more under the spotlight than before.” 9 South Africa is thought to be where most of this illegal activity occurs where, in 2010, 333 rhinos were killed, triple that of 2009. Included in that number were ten critically endangered black rhinos. Thus far, in 2011 it appears to be even worse. Many poachers are affiliated with crime gangs who hunt by helicopter with automatic weapons. It is also reported that rhinos are being “farmed” in China to get around the trade ban. They have found that the sale of ivory has doubled since 2004, as it has gotten so bad that rhino horns are being stolen from some European museums. It is believed by many that legalizing the sale of rhino horns, or dehorning rhinos will not help-that the only way to truly help is through better legislation and enforcement. Also, the white rhinos were moved into a different appendix of the CITES list to allow for some trade in live rhinos and for hunting trophies. This has made it difficult to control illegal poaching. 1 Rhinos play a role in the ecosystems and their removal has affected various plant and animal species. They are considered an “umbrella species”, meaning that conserving them will lead to the conservation of other plants and animals. 12
What Can Be Done‚Ä®
A renewed effort in South Africa includes conservation law enforcement, improved training and monitoring, and increased presence along the borders. 11 Studies have shown that increasing security alone will not end rhino poaching. In May of this year, Namibia launched a free and confidential telephone hotline to try and stop poaching. In calling this number, those aware of poaching are able to contact the authorities anonymously. Rhino poaching in Namibia is now at an all time low. 10 The environment minister of South Africa recently announced that they were looking into dehorning its rhino population as a means to stop legal trophy hunts. They are also thinking about putting a moratorium on rhino hunting as a response to the abuse in the allocation of permits. One way they have discussed doing this is by requiring officials to supervise hunts. 14 International support is also needed to stop the trade of rhino ivory, and to assist in the identification of poachers and traders. Legislation, enforcement, and penalties need to be internationally consistent. Education is also very important; people need to understand why the use of rhino horn in products is not a good idea.‚Ä® It is difficult for scientists to monitor rhinos, as due to their body structure, a monitor placed around their neck would fall off. They have had success with tracking chips, but unfortunately most poaching takes place at night when monitors are not being utilized. They have recently developed a GPS that can be fitted into a rhino’s horn, which allows for real-time monitoring. This allows rhinos locations to be monitored at all times. Improved incident response, communication, and security are also needed.‚Ä® At the 61st meeting of CITES, the UK was able to secure an international agreement that would curb the illegal trade of rhino horn. As part of the agreement, ways to police rhinos and awareness campaigns will be shared between countries and conservation groups. In September, a workshop will be held in South Africa to develop better cooperation between countries where rhinos are being poached, and where their horns are being sold. A working group was also established at this meeting to work on addressing Vietnam’s involvement in illegal rhino horn trafficking between now and next year’s meeting. 13
How You Can Help‚Ä®
There are a lot of ways to help end rhino poaching. You can visit http://www.savingrhinos.org/How-to-help-Rhinos.html to learn about various Rhino awareness campaigns. This webpage also contains recommended reading material, and links to adopt a rhino. Saving Rhinos has a twitter feed: @savingrhinos, where you can keep up to date with worldwide news in the fight against rhino poaching. Also, this September 22nd, World Rhino Day will be kicking off around the world!
For more information, you can view a short youtube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlDECbaE1A8. This day was created as a way to, “celebrate the rhino and highlight efforts to debunk the myths about rhino horn”.