Sep 22

It’s World Rhino Day today. To celebrate and discuss, Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls (Deputy Keeper of Natural History of the Horniman Museum and Gardens) shares her insider knowledge and experience in rhinoceros conservation, after her recent return from the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

The Sumatran rhino’s problems began the moment someone, a name now lost to history, first decided rhino horn should be used as a medicinal ingredient. This idea was passed down from generation to generation until, over 2,000 years later, the use of rhino horn is deeply ingrained in people’s minds and cultures. These ancient remedies, now commonly referred as ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’, are still used today, primarily in China and Vietnam. Contrary to popular western belief, rhino horn is not (ironically- until very recently) used as an aphrodisiac, but rather to treat a large number of ailments including fever, hallucinations, and headaches.

Rhino horn is largely made of keratin, however; and you’d feel just as better if you ground up and swallowed your own fingernails. Nevertheless, hunting these animals for their horns decimated Sumatran rhino populations throughout Southeast Asia and, as the issue of habitat loss also began to raise its ugly head, the combined impact of these two sustained pressures led to the collapse of wild populations. As a benchmark; in the 1980s it was estimated there were around 1,000 Sumatran rhinos in the wild. In 2017, that number is estimated to be around 100.

Sumatran rhinoceros © Gareth Goldthorpe

Until recently, these remaining wild populations were split between Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, there are now only two known individuals of the Bornean rhino left (a different subspecies), which live in a private research facility in Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. On a positive note, these two remaining individuals are a male and female; generally accepted as the two primary requirements of a breeding programme. However, even if intensive breeding of their would-be sibling-offspring wasn’t an evolutionary no-no, in a cruel twist of fate Sumatran rhinos that haven’t produced offspring by a certain age often develop cysts in the uterus and can become unable to conceive anyway. As is the case for Iman, the last known remaining female Bornean rhino.

The largest known wild Sumatran rhino populations, holding on with all 12 toes in Indonesia, are now restricted to three national parks, all on the island of Sumatra. Having separate populations is good for genetic diversity, and if a natural disaster or disease should wipe out one population then the species will still persist due to those that were isolated from it. If, for example, a large tsunami hit the northern edge of Java (heaven forbid) where Ujung Kulon National Park is located, it could well wipe out the entire Javan rhino species, as there are no other populations anywhere in the world. On the other hand, if numbers of Sumatran rhino are so thin in each of the three parks that male and female rhinos won’t find each other, then short of joining Sudan on Tinder, making babies in the wild becomes exceptionally difficult, meaning perhaps bringing them together is the better option. Faced with this unenviable quandary, a lot of conservationists feel the answer is in a captive breeding programme with the aim of repopulating the wild habitat with captive-born rhinos.

The dense habitat preferred by the Sumatran rhinoceros is difficult for conservationists to penetrate in search of the elusive species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Scientists find the key

The first known record of a Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity was in Calcutta, India in 1889. Although the specific details are irritatingly lost to history, rhino experts seem to feel there is enough evidence to substantiate the story. Nearly 100 years after India perhaps unintentionally made rhino history, the need for a captive breeding programme became urgent and so between 1984 and 1996, 40 of the approximately 1,000 Sumatran rhinos persisting in the wild at the time were captured (from both Indonesia and Malaysia) to form a worldwide collaborative captive breeding programme. The wild-caught rhinos were split up between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United States, and the UK who all tried their hand at breeding these enigmatic animals.

Thirteen years later, the pitter patter of tiny rhino feet was still absent from zookeepers’ ears and so in 1997 scientists at Cincinnati Zoo led by Dr Terri Roth (Vice President of Conservation and Science, and Director of the Centre for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife; CREW) turned to endocrinology and ultrasonography. A long and complicated story of science, frustration, grumpy rhinos, and no mating unravelled until Dr Roth and her team finally discovered that Sumatran rhinos are in fact induced ovulators. This means that a female won’t come into oestrus until she has had ‘special time’ with a male, after which, she obviously needs to gain in order to conceive. This was an exceptional breakthrough, and one that resulted in the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in 112 years when Ipuh, one of the last three rhinos surviving from the original project initiated in 1984, successfully mated with a female called Emi, and with that a heavy hairy miracle was born. With all of their new found expertise in rhino romance, the CREW team managed to help Ipuh and Emi produce two more babies- a female called Suci in 2004, and a male called Harapan in 2007.

Born in 2001 at Cincinnati Zoo, Andalas was the first Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity in 112 years and as such, represented a huge breakthrough for his species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Meanwhile in Indonesia

As scientists in Cincinnati were working on unravelling the mysteries of the Sumatran rhino’s reproductive requirements, on the other side of the world the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary was completed in Sumatra, Indonesia, and in 1998 opened its doors to its first residents; two females, Dusun and Bina, and one male, Torgamba. Two more females, Ratu and Rosa, arrived in 2005. Yet despite being spoilt for choice on the dating scene, Torgamba sadly wasn’t up to the task and the breeding programme appeared to be failing.

Fortunately for Sumatran rhinos, in 2007 Dr Roth and her rhino specialist team gave the programme’s first born male, Emi and Ipuh’s first calf Andalas – now six years old, to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in a bid to save the day. It turned out to be worth their heartache as in 2012 Andalas became a first-time father and the number of Sumatran rhinos in the world went up by another one. One is a significant number when there are so few remaining, and Andatu, Andalas’s son, made history when he became the first baby rhino born at the SRS.

Andalas is obviously enjoying his new life as chief baby-maker as he and his ‘partner’, Ratu, successfully bred again and in 2016 had a girl called Delilah. By 2014, Harapan (Andalas’s younger brother, born at Cincinnati Zoo) became the only Sumatran remaining outside of Indonesia and Malaysia and so the Cincinnati team decided to let him follow in his brother’s footsteps and sent him too, to the SRS in Indonesia.

Now five years old, Andatu was the first rhinoceros born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. His parents are Cincinnati Zoo-born male Andalas, and wild-caught female Ratu. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

The future

Hunting and habitat loss have decimated wild numbers of rhinos to a point where physiology is now their main problem (although the aforementioned issues also persist). The need for induced ovulation, as well as the fact that cysts can develop in the uterus if females remain unmated, both mean that with so few rhinos in the wild, many females are likely to become unable to conceive. The stability of wild Sumatran rhino populations remains in question and captive breeding programmes used to boost numbers in the wild seem to be the most viable way of increasing their numbers to a level where they’ll regularly be able to breed naturally in the wild again.

In 2017, now armed with an entire crash (the official, not to mention delightful, collective noun for rhinos) including both males and females, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is on a path paved with hope and optimism. Andalas and his rhino team are undoubtedly working hard to produce more bundles of joy, and with the high levels of expertise and dedication witnessed first-hand at the SRS, there is definitely hope for the Sumatran rhino yet.

Although each animal lives semi-wild in its own 10-20km2 enclosure of primary forest habitat, their health is monitored daily by their keepers. Here Harapan is having his temperature taken as he nonchalantly hoovers up some carrots. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Find out more about the Sumatran rhinoceros on Arkive

Visit the International Rhino Foundation website

Follow Dr Nicholls on Twitter

 

Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Palawan forest turtle

Nominated by: Katala Foundation

Why do you love it?

The Palawan forest turtle, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, is one of the rarest, most endangered, and least known turtles in the world. It is only found in five municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines and nowhere else in the world!

This species lives in small streams in lowland forests. The beautiful coloration of juveniles and the impressive bodies of adults are rarely seen because the species is extremely shy and nocturnal. At dusk they emerge from their dens and shelters to forage on aquatic invertebrates, plants and wild fruits that fall into the stream. The latter helps to regenerate the riverine habitat since most of the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract. Adults also feed on the invasive golden apple snail, an alien pest species, while juveniles take mosquito larvae. By doing so they help reduce agricultural pest species and invertebrate-borne diseases.

Though physically extremely tough, the species is susceptible to stress and has low fertility. They are not doing well in captivity and have never been successfully captive bred.

What are the threats to the Palawan forest turtle?

This species is facing a combination of threats. Being a lowland forest species, the species is more and more threatened by habitat destruction and conversion, mainly through slash-and-burn farming practices, timber cutting, agricultural encroachment, and quarrying. Like the other freshwater turtle species in the Philippines, S. leytensis is consumed locally as source of protein. Commercial exploitation for food and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) though is causing a more severe threat to the wild populations. Yet, the biggest threat to the Palawan Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. Just months after its rediscovery was published in 2004, the species was available on the international pet markets of Europe, Japan, China and the USA. Since then prices remained high and are still at some $2,000 USD per individual.

In 2015, the species received the dubious honour of almost having been eradicated, when it was found in the largest ever made confiscation of a Critically Endangered freshwater turtle.

What are you doing to save it?

In 2007, KFI established quarantine, rescue and holding facilities at the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation in Narra, Palawan, where the only range assurance colony of Siebenrockiella leytensis is maintained.

In partnership with academic institutions and wildlife agencies on Palawan, Katala Foundation is leading public awareness campaigns that are designed to improve law enforcement against illegal wildlife trade. Likewise, KFI conducts scientific research on the management of Philippine freshwater turtles and their habitats, and educates and capacitates stakeholders on natural resource management and conservation, and restoration of the species’ habitats.

Distribution surveys and long-term studies on population trends, ecology, and life history of the Palawan forest turtle are also being undertaken by KFI since 2007.

KFI established the first protected area for a freshwater turtle in the Philippines in Dumarao, Roxas, Palawan in 2013. The expansion of the area into an adjacent lowland forest is currently being discussed.

Together with numerous helpers, KFI managed to rescue most of the 4,000 individuals that had been confiscated during what became known as the Palawan Forest Turtle Crisis in 2015. In total, 3,385 individuals were released back to the wild within the indigenous range of the species and KFI continues to monitor these sites today.

VOTE NOW!

May 29

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Muhammed Ali Nawaz – Snow leopard conservation: a landscape-level approach in the mountains of northern Pakistan

Ali works in Pakistan with the Critically Endangered snow leopard, whose numbers have undergone a drastic decline due to poaching, human-animal conflict and habitat loss. By bringing together NGOs, local people and government, Ali has developed and implemented a management plan for the species to allow co-existence of communities and carnivores. Human-animal conflict is rife in the area, with many livestock keepers killing snow leopards who have predated their sheep, goats and cows. Ali’s projects help local people to protect their livestock and has reduced the amount of losses caused by snow leopards tenfold.

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Find out more about Ali’s work on the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about the Snow Leopard Trust

Visit the Arkive profile of the snow leopard

Apr 18

Arkive and Wildscreen Exchange photographer James Warwick recently visited the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, which is located in the Central Indian Highlands. This name may not mean much to you but it is, in fact, the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ and is home to the tigers, sloth bears and Indian leopards that are featured in the story.

We asked James to tell us about the places he’d been to in India and share his fantastic images with us – and you!

James: To date, I’ve worked in four National Parks in India; Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Kaziranga all of which are all classed as Tiger Reserves by the Indian government’s Project Tiger. As well as providing vital habitat for the surviving Bengal tiger, they are also home to a vast array of other mammals and birds some of which are shown in this selection.

Ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii) on rock, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Ruddy mongoose, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Ranthambhore National Park in south western Rajasthan is famous for its wild tiger population and was once a private hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Its name comes from the vast fort that stands in the middle of the forest which is thought to date back to 1110. At 392 km2, Ranthambhore is one of the smallest 47 Project Tiger reserves in India.

Bengal tigress (Panthera tigris tigris) swimming across Lake Rajbagh, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Bengal tigress swimming across Lake Rajbagh, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Bandhavgarh National Park, situated in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, is one of India’s most popular wildlife reserves and at 438 km2 covers a similar area to Ranthambhore. Bandhavgarh’s tiger population density is one of the highest in India but it is also rich in other wildlife including large populations of Indian leopards and sloth bears.

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) resting in sal forest (Shorea robusta), Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Sloth bear resting in sal forest, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Kanha National Park also lies in Madhya Pradesh in the Central Indian Highlands about 160 km southeast of Jabalpur. The reserve consists of a core area of 940 km2 which is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1,005 km2. In the 1890s, this region was the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ stories.

Tiger sleeping on rock in forest (Panthera tigris tigris), Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

Bengal tiger sleeping on rock in forest, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

Finally, Kaziranga National Park lies in the floodplain of the mighty Brahmaputra River in the north-eastern state of Assam and is home to around 75% (1800) of the remaining world population of the Indian or great one-horned rhinoceros. There is also a healthy population of Bengal tigers (around 100) but their shy nature and the region‘s tall ‘elephant‘ grasses make them very difficult to see.

Indian rhinoceros wallowing (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

Indian rhinoceros wallowing, Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

The Bengal tiger is found primarily in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. It is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies but there are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild with poaching to fuel the illegal trade in body parts in Asia being the largest immediate threat to their remaining population.

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) cub, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Bengal tiger cub, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Find out about the work that the Wildlife Protection Society of India are doing with tigers on their website

Visit James’s website to see more of his wonderful images

If you are from a conservation organisation, James has very kindly made these images and many others from around the world available to you. If you’d like to get access to the images, join the Wildscreen Exchange, or email us at exchange.info@wildscreen.org.uk for more information.

Mar 5

Heightened conservation measures in Nepal have once again resulted in a year of zero poaching in the country.

After Nepal making a commitment to protect the future of its magnificent and highly endangered species, it has once again succeeded and between February 2013 and February 2014, no rhino, tigers or elephants were poached in the country. Nepal has a history of success in the prevention of poaching, and another poaching-free year occurred in 2011. Worldwide, Nepal has been praised for this outstanding accomplishment, with Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, saying, “We congratulate Nepal on reducing poaching to zero within its borders. This achievement serves as a model for WWF’s goal for drastically reducing wildlife crime worldwide – with a combination of brave policy making, determined implementation and robust enforcement.”

Indian rhinoceros

Caption: The Vulnerable Indian rhinoceros is found in scattered populations across Nepal and India

The Nepalese government led the conservation efforts, which included strengthening the protection of wildlife and increasing the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. A wide range of organisations have contributed towards Nepal’s zero poaching success, from small conservation charities, park authorities and local communities to the army and police. “The success of achieving zero poaching throughout the year is a huge achievement and a result of prioritising a national need to curb wildlife crimes in the country”, said Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Anti-poaching measures also encouraged the co-operation of boundary officials on the borders between Nepal, India and China, which helped to prevent the trafficking of animal parts into and out of the country. The collaboration between the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police has resulted in the enforcement of wildlife laws throughout the country, both at a local and national scale.

Caption: The Endangered Bengal tiger is a target species for poachers

The work of nine different organisations that have contributed to this great achievement will be honoured by the WWF’s Leaders for a Living Planet Award, whose past winners have included Dr Thomas Lovejoy for his work on forest fragmentation and highlighting conservation as a global priority and Dr Trudy Ecofrey for her work on restoring wildlife on the Great Plains of the United States. Notable organisations that have had outstanding contributions to the cause include Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, the Nepal Army and Police, Buffer zone management committees of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal, said, “It is a matter of great pride to mark the first World Wildlife Day with the announcement of a year of zero poaching in Nepal. We are committed to work with the government, conservation partners and the local communities to redouble efforts to sustain this success.”

Asian elephant image

Caption: The wild population of the Endangered Indian elephant has severely declined due to poaching

Read more about Nepal’s year of zero poaching.

Find out more about the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive.

Find out more about the tiger on ARKive.

Discover more species from Nepal on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer.

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