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

 

Aug 1

Clare James is a wildlife photographer and conservation photojournalist. Here Clare discusses her time at the Sibuya Game Reserve, home to the Sibuya Rhino Foundation.

A lone Rhino in the early morning mist on the river plains is a special sight. The dawn brings new light and hope into the world.

A lone rhino in the early morning mist on the river plains is a special sight

Whilst teaching wildlife photography out in South Africa, I became aware of the enormity of the poaching issue, affecting numerous species of flora and fauna. South Africa is still teeming with wildlife compared to many other regions on this planet. This will soon change if poaching continues at the current rate.

DSC_4190-2

Clare photographing rhinos in Sibuya Game Reserve

Last year, I spent six months out in the bush filming and photographing wildlife away from the clutches of civilization, spending a few months at Sibuya Game Reserve. Spending time out in the bush filming, getting to know the men on the Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) who work long hours in order to protect these beautiful prehistoric creatures was extremely special. White rhino are now the main target of criminal organisations, who stop at nothing to get their hands on the horn, rhino horn is currently one of the most lucrative commodities in the world, it is used as a status symbol in Vietnam and an aphrodisiac in China, alongside providing funding for certain terrorist groups.

Whilst filming I was delighted to meet a young rhino affectionately known as Binky, who had been born a week earlier and over the months watched her grow into a fine young rhino, under the protective eye of her beautiful parents. I got to know some of their unique personality traits and habits. Inevitably I became extremely close and attached to this beautiful family. Seeing Bingo, Binky’s father, protect his family was very touching.

DSC_4175

Binky’s family

 

Bingo’s protection turned out to not be enough, as less than a year later, poaching had claimed their lives. Poachers had infiltrated the reserve and using chainsaws cut away the base plate of three rhinos including Bingo and the two female mothers. Bingo survived the initial attack, fighting for the first few days then also went on to a more peaceful place, leaving little Binky orphaned. Having both mother and father ripped away, Binky and another newborn rhino, Courage, whose mother’s life was also taken that day are left alone in this world.

Through human brutality they have been torn apart. We have to continue fighting this war for the rhino’s sake. The rate of poaching can be slowed and stopped if more people stand together. My heart bleeds with the memories of the happy family which I spent so much time with a year ago.

Binky in Sibuya Game Reserve

Binky in Sibuya Game Reserve

Please share this story to support Sibuya Rhino Foundation in their mission to protect their remaining rhinos so that the little ones have their chance to reproduce and keep this special species alive for future generations.

Save our rhinos!

Save our rhinos!

Visit the Sibuya Rhino Foundation website to find out more about the amazing work that they do

Find out more about rhinos on Arkive

See more of Clare’s beautiful images on her Clare James website

Jul 30

What comes to mind when you think of the word “drones”? It’s usually not conservation. Increasingly, however drones are being used as vital tools for conservation. Drones can provide stunning images of landscapes and wildlife from formerly impossible locations. However, a lot of questions arise when you think about how to use drones for conservation.

How does it work? Does it affect animals? How do you get started? If these are some of your burning questions then allow us to clarify.

The Arkive Team had the awesome opportunity to speak with wildlife conservation experts about the use of drones for conservation. We spoke with Annika Lieben from The Shadowview Foundation and Serge Wich from Conservationdrones.org.

Can you tell us the story behind the creation of your organization?

Serge: Conservationdrones.org started in January 2011 when I met with Lian Pin Koh, a conservation ecologist and we began discussing the issue of forest loss in Southeast Asia. It is difficult to monitor a species like the orangutan. We thought it would be amazing to monitor species from the air. Piloted planes and helicopters were expensive to use so we settled upon the use of drones, since they are more cost-effective.

Bornean-orangutan-infant-hanging-from-tree

Bornean orangutan infant hanging from tree

Annika: Well, our co-founder Laurens de Groot used to work for Sea Shepherds. They were in Cape Cross, Namibia where a massive seal culling occurs every year. Laurens and the others were detected and had to get away. In 2012, Laurens and others returned to Namibia and used drones to document the seal culling. It worked quite well and because of its success Laurens decided to further pursue the use of drones for conservation.

How did you settle upon using drones for conservation?

Serge: Well, helicopters and planes are not always available when you need them. Furthermore when using helicopters you must fly relatively low; this is quite a risk, because if there is a glitch with the engine there is very little time to react. On the other hand using drones only requires effort and funding and does not put the life of individuals at risk. By using drones for conservation, you help encourage other conservation groups to use drones for this purpose.

Annika: The use of drones offers a lot of opportunities that traditional methods cannot. Drones are a versatile tool that can be used for scientific research and data collection.

Drone - Shadowview Foundation

Laurens de Groot (left) and team with drone (© Shadowview Foundation)

What are the benefits of using drones for conservation?

Serge: Drones are a great tool that allows you to capture high resolution imagery from a variety of sensors (RGB cameras, NIR cameras, thermal cameras) by flying over an area. Since drones do not have the availability restrictions of planes and helicopters, you can use them with greater frequency.  Additionally, it is more cost-efficient.

Drones 1 - Conservationdrones

Serge Wich (bottom right), Lian Pin Koh (top right) and team with drones (© Conservationsdrones.org)

Annika: Drones are a new way of looking at conservation. It allows you to gather data in an efficient manner and they are much cheaper than using a helicopter or plane. Additionally, poachers are not used to a drone, which provides an advantage.

What would you say to people who are skeptical about the use of drones for conservation?

Serge: I would start by asking them, which aspect of drones causes them to be skeptical. Based on that I can explain to them how drones are used for conservation and then we can see if they remain skeptical. More generally I would tell people that because the learning curve for operating drones (particularly fixed-wing systems) can be steep, operators receive extensive training. After the training they are able to operate these systems in a safe manner. While there used to be an association of drones with the military, I think this perception is changing quickly. Drones are no longer solely for the military; they are now commonly used for humanitarian work, research and conservation.

Annika: Drones provide an additional method of creating a network for fighting wildlife crime and learning about species. It’s all about working together.

How can amateur filmmakers learn to properly use drones for wildlife filmmaking? What are the best practices?

Serge: I recommend they look into small companies that offer thorough training for operating drones. By doing this you reduce the risk of the loss of your drone. It is important to do flight training so you can properly operate the drone in the field. Get the proper qualifications and be aware of safety measures. Safety is key.

For best practices, in case anything should malfunction it is vital to have a fail-safe system.  You can program the drone to land by itself or come back to a designated start point if something goes awry. You can also set up a geo-fence which is a pre-determined area in which the drone is programmed to operate. If it goes outside this area it will either land or return to a starting point. Despite the drones ability to fly on autopilot, it is still very important to know how to operate it well.

Landscape - Conservationdrones.org

Flight over orangutan re-introduction site in Jantho, Aceh (© Conservationdrones.org)

Annika: Foremost, to properly use drones one must be well-trained in how to fly a drone when in close proximity to animals. Learn how to safely fly drones when near birds, since birds sometimes identify drones as birds of prey.  Herd animals will also become spooked if one of their members starts to get agitated. It is always important to keep your distance from the species being studied or observed. If an animal becomes agitated because of the drone’s presence it is best to move away from the animal.

How do you maintain a safe environment for the species being filmed?

Serge: You should not fly drones too close to the species being studied. This is especially true for birds who might perceive drones as a predator and attempt to attack it. During your first flight you should fly fairly high and gauge the impact of the presence and/or noise on the behavior of the species. In this manner, you can determine which height is appropriate. You should also use a drone that has redundancy in its motors so that  it will land by itself if it loses one of its engines rather than simply crash.

Annika: In order to maintain a safe environment, it is important to do your research on the species in order to understand how it will react to a flying apparatus. Doing your research assists in providing the best approach for filming.

Landscape - Shadowview Foundation

Amazing aerial imagery (© Shadowview Foundation)

What have been the most meaningful successes of your organization?

Serge: I think the most meaningful successes have been the ability to detect orangutans and chimpanzees in remote areas. Also at the Chitwan National Park we trained WWF members and Nepali rangers to use drones in their anti-poaching efforts of rhinos. Recently we have also been successful in detecting habitat change which is a key component of conservation work.

Juvenile-chimpanzees-hanging-in-branches

Juvenile chimpanzee hanging in branches

Annika: In collaboration with an anti-poaching team, we assisted in the capture of rhino poachers operating in South Africa and in Malawi, we used one of our drones to guide rangers to the camp of suspected poachers. We also used drones to monitor and detect illegal fishing vessels in the Mediterranean with our project partner The Black Fish. We collected evidence that will be presented to the European Commission.

One of our recent projects involves using drones to protect elephants traveling along the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor in Kenya. Drones would be used to detect poachers, collect evidence, and increase the chance of catching poachers. It would create a network to defeat a network.

African-elephants

African elephants

What do you see as the future of your organization? 

Serge: We want to continue to use drones to do conservation work.  We also want to link up researchers and conservationists with the information they need in a successful way. We are working with universities to create data collection centers of the footage from drones.  One goal is to create software that will look through all the film and immediately pinpoint the footage, which includes a specific species of interest.

Annika: We are constantly looking for new technologies that will assist us in the fight against wildlife crime. We want to keep growing and we will try any method to stop poaching.

The conservation work being done by Conservationdrones.org and The Shadowview Foundation highlight the versatility and utility of drones for research, data collection, and the prevention of wildlife crime.

Keep up the good work!

William Lazaro, Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA

Jul 3

Arkive’s Week in Review — Wildlife News

ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.

Article originally published on Friday, Jun 26, 2015

More endangered pygmy sloths discovered in Panama than previously estimated

Pygmy-three-toed-sloth

Pygmy three-toed sloth

Researchers estimate that there are between 500 – 1500 pygmy sloths residing on the Isla Escudo de Veraguas. At this time, the sloth’s island habitat is only partially protected.

View original article

Article originally published on Saturday, Jun 27, 2015

First lions to return to Rwanda after two decades

Asiatic-lion-and-lioness

Asiatic lion and lioness

Seven lions, two males and five females, are being transported to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park from South Africa. The lions were chosen based on their future reproductive potential and ability to contribute to social cohesion.

View original article

Article originally published on Sunday, Jun 28, 2015

Will animals of the future only be safe in captivity?

Indri-infant-clinging-to-branch

Indri infant clinging to branch

In the future, perhaps lemurs, rhinos, and tigers will only survive with constant surveillance and protection. While it may seem excessive, it has already happened for the last remaining northern white rhinos. However, it may not work for all animals, like the indri that has a complex diet of leaves eaten at different times.

View original article

Southern-white-rhinoceros-getting-up-off-ground

Southern white rhinoceros getting up off ground

Article originally published on Monday, Jun 29, 2015

The truth about tarantulas: not too big, not too scary

Curlyhair-tarantula

Curlyhair tarantula

Tarantulas are often erroneously believed to be big, deadly and prone to attacking humans. In actuality, the original tarantula (Lycosa tarantula) is actually a small, innocuous wolf spider. The spiders mistakenly called tarantulas belong to the family Theraphosidae.

View original article

Article originally published on Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015

Meet Hades, the centipede from hell

Amazonian-giant-centipede-on-branch

Amazonian giant centipede on branch

A newly discovered centipede has been named Geophilus hadesi, after the mythological god of the underworld. The centipede spends it entire life in its dark, underground environment. One specimen was collected from a depth of 3,609 feet.

View original article

Article originally published on Wednesday, Jul 1, 2015

Australia commits to saving the Great Barrier Reef – but still plans to mine more coal

Catalaphyllia-jardinei-colony

Catalaphyllia jardinei colony

Australia has made a 35 year agreement with the United Nations to restore the Great Barrier Reef. Corals have diminished by 50 percent in the last three decades. Despite the agreement, Australia is still attempting to become the world’s leading producer and exporter of coal, which has led to the reef’s decline.

View original article

Article originally published on Thursday, Jul 2, 2015

Climate change: Lizards switch sex

dwarf-bearded-dragon

Dwarf bearded dragon

It appears that increasing temperatures have led male central bearded dragons to change their gender and become females. These new females can produce twice as many eggs as standard females. These lizards belong to the genus Pogona that includes the dwarf bearded dragon.

View original article

Enjoy your weekend!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA

 

May 28

Arkive’s Week in Review — Wildlife News

ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.

Article originally published on Friday, May 22, 2015

Octopus has the ability to see with its skin

Common-octopus

Common octopus

In a recent study, researchers found that octopus skin contains the same light-sensitive proteins found in eyes. The skin responds to light independently of the central nervous system, and detects changes or increases in light brightness.

View original article

Article originally published on Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rescue workers try to save oil-soaked pelicans

Brown-pelican-on-water

Brown pelican on water

Rescuers have been able to rescue eight brown pelicans, but an intensive clean-up process awaits them. Pelicans must acclimate to their new surroundings for 48 hours and are afterwards extensively cleaned. They are then taken care of for two weeks after which they can return to the wild.

View original article

Article originally published on Sunday, May 24, 2015

Synthetic horns may offer hope to endangered rhinos

Black-rhinoceros-anterior-view

Black rhinoceros

Currently, three of the five rhino species are critically endangered primarily due to poaching for their horns. A California biotech start-up, however has posed an unorthodox solution; creating synthetic rhino horns to offer consumers an ethical alternative. Conservationists are skeptical that synthetic horns will reduce demand for the real thing.

View original article

Article originally published on Monday, May 25, 2015

Endangered saiga antelope mysteriously dying in vast numbers in Kazakhstan

Male-saiga-antelope-walking

Male saiga antelope

Around one-third of the saiga antelope population in Kazakhstan has mysteriously died. Their agriculture ministry hypothesizes that a pasteurellosis epidemic might be the culprit. As of yet the cause has not been officially determined.

View original article

Article originally published on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mozambique loses almost 10,000 elephants in just five years

African-elephant-family

African elephant family

In 2010, Mozambique was home to approximately 20,000 elephants, but today it houses only 10,300. Almost all of the poaching occurred in the remote northern region of the country. Celso Correia, Mozambique’s new Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, has stated that tackling poaching is a top priority of the government.

View original article

Article originally published on Wednesday, May 27, 2015

World’s rarest porpoise is dying to feed a black market in fish bladders

Vaquita-calf-at-the-surface

Vaquita calf at the surface

In a recent report, Greenpeace officials noted that vaquitas are being caught and drowned in illegal gillnets, which are meant to catch totoabas, another endangered species. The vaquita population was 200 in 2012, but now only 97 individuals remain.

View original article

Article originally published on Thursday, May 28, 2015

An erupting volcano threatens one of the world’s rarest animals

galápagos-pink-land-iguana

Galápagos pink land iguana

Isabela Island, where a volcano is currently erupting, is the sole home of the Galápagos pink land iguana. Park officials are monitoring lava flows, which thus far have not affected the 200 iguanas on the island.

View original article

Enjoy your weekend!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA

 

 

 

About

RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Recent posts

Arkive twitter

Twitter: ARKive