Apr 3

The Sumatran rhino has not been seen in the state of Kalimantan, Borneo, for more than two decades, but recent evidence has been found to suggest that this threatened species still occurs in the Indonesian state.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is one of the most threatened mammals in the world

Encouraging evidence

Now considered to be one of the world’s most threatened mammals with just 200 to 275 individuals remaining in the wild, the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino once roamed across the Himalayan foothills and east to southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Peninsular Malaysia. However, this impressive range has since been dramatically decreased as a result of hunting and habitat destruction.

Also known as the ‘hairy rhino’ due to a covering of reddish-brown to black hair, the Sumatran rhino is known to survive in small populations on Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to confirm the presence of this shy and elusive species in the state of Kalimantan for over 20 years.

While conservationists from WWF-Indonesia have yet to spot a rhino in Kalimantan, the discovery of footprints, mud wallows, tree markings and signs of rhino feeding all indicate that at least one Sumatran rhino persists in the area.

This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia’s conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Numbers

In such small and fragmented populations, it has become difficult for populations of the Sumatran rhino to breed successfully, and cases have been reported in the past of single rhinos surviving alone in a small forest fragment. The rarer the species becomes, the more challenging it is for scientists to count and monitor the number of remaining individuals.

As yet, there is no information on whether the recent evidence has been left by just one rhino or a small group, but scientists believe it is unlikely that the group is large.

The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals,” explained John Payne, a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA). “If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos.”

Sumatran rhino image

WWF-Indonesia is working on determining how many rhinos may be living in Kalimantan

Breeding programmes

Along with other scientists at BORA, Payne is currently working to breed two Sumatran rhinos in large, semi-wild enclosures in Sabah, Malaysia, one of which was found living alone in a fragment of forest with no hope of finding a mate to breed with.

A similar breeding programme in Sumatra led to the first successful birth of a captive Sumatran rhino since 2001. Given that it was only the fourth captive Sumatran rhino birth in the last century, this was an impressive achievement, but Payne believes that more rhinos will need to be captured to increase genetic diversity within the population and ensure that the breeding programmes are successful in the long term.

I would hope that consideration might be given to capture to add to the global captive population of 10 individuals,” said Payne. “New genes are needed. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), although a Malaysian NGO, would be happy to collaborate with WWF-Indonesia and the Indonesian authorities. Such collaboration would help in exchanging information and ideas, and help to better secure collaboration on this species between Indonesia and Malaysia.”

At present, WWF-Indonesia is focusing its efforts on determining how many rhinos are currently living in East Kalimantan, and the organisation is working with local communities to ensure that the area is protected.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Sumatran rhino found in Kalimantan after unseen in region for 20 years.

View photos and videos of the Sumatran rhino on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Jan 14

Although the term ‘The Big Five’ is commonly used today by African Safari Tour operators for marketing purposes, it actually has a much darker origin. The phrase was first coined by hunters, who considered these five large African mammals to be the most difficult to hunt, due to their ferocity and the danger involved in tracking and killing them. Today however, ‘The Big Five’ are among the most popular and well studied of all African animals.

African elephant

As the largest terrestrial mammal in the world, the African elephant is also one of the most charismatic. This emotive creature has a highly complex social structure that is perhaps what makes the elephant such a favourite among us. Each closely related family group of females and calves is led by an old ‘matriarch’ female, and male elephants leave the group at puberty, forming less tight-knit alliances with other males. Interestingly, there seems to be some scientific truth behind the expression ‘elephants never forget’. Studies have revealed that the dominant female is able to build a ‘social memory’, enabling her to recognise ‘friends’. Despite their seemingly gentle nature, elephants can be extremely aggressive and dangerous when threatened.

African elephant photo

African elephants fighting

Black rhinoceros

The Critically Endangered black rhinoceros is distinguished from the African white rhinoceros by its characteristic pointed, prehensile upper lip. It is known for its inquisitive yet aggressive nature towards humans and other animals. Twice as heavy as an African buffalo, the black rhinoceros should not be mistaken as a slow animal. It is surprisingly fast on its feet, reaching speeds of up to 31 miles per hour, and is able to make sharp turns whilst running full pelt. In spite of all this, new camera technology has revealed a softer side to the black rhinoceros, which appears to show that they meet at night in order to ‘socialise’.

Photo of male black rhinoceros charging

Male black rhinoceros charging

African buffalo

The iconic African or Cape buffalo has a menacing appearance, with its brownish black coat and magnificently curved horns that can be used defensively to great effect. Alongside the hippopotamus, the African buffalo is considered to be Africa’s most dangerous animal, known to attack and even kill humans and other animals without provocation. Given their vegetarian status, this inclination highlights their extremely aggressive nature. Female bonds are strong within a buffalo herd, and if one is attacked by a predator, it will be staunchly defended by the rest of the herd. Having seen a lioness held hostage up a tree for hours by a herd of buffalo, I can vouch for the loyalty of herds!

Buffalo standing guard over a lioness in a tree © Kaz Armour

Buffalo standing guard over a lioness in a tree © Kaz Armour

Lion

Lions are the most social of all cats, living in groups of related females who often reproduce at the same time and suckle each others cubs. In many cultures the lion has become known as the ‘King of the Beasts’ due to its ferocious temperament and regal presence. Also one of the largest of the ‘big cats’, the muscular lion has powerful jaws and is able to hunt animals that are many times its own size. Male lions compete for access to females, and will commonly kill any cubs already present after taking over a pride. This behaviour is exhibited to increase the reproductive potential of the male in a short period of time.

African lions attacking a hippopotamus

African lions attacking a hippopotamus

Leopard

The graceful leopard is both majestic and elusive, its spots providing extremely effective camouflage in African habitats. Being skilled climbers, leopards will often drag their kill up into the trees to prevent it from being poached by scavengers. Leopards are powerful predators, with formidable jaws that dispatch and dismember prey with ease. They are equally able to hunt at night, with their long, sensitive whiskers enabling them to ‘feel’ their way in the darkness.

African leopard hunting

African leopard hunting

Africa’s ‘Little Five’

Whilst we talk about Africa’s most well known and ferocious animals, we mustn’t forget those smaller, but no less important. Did you know that for each of ‘the Big Five’ African animals, there is a ‘Little Five’ equivalent? These somewhat smaller, but equally impressive creatures include:

  • The rhinoceros beetle. The male has an impressive backward-curved horn on its head, hence its common name.
  • The rufous elephant shrew. These bouncing critters have kangaroo-like hind legs, allowing them to hop bipedally when moving fast.
  • The leopard tortoise. Named after its gold and black mottled shell, the leopard tortoise can live up to 50 years in captivity!
  • The buffalo weaver. These striking birds are most easily identified by their bright red rump and white head.
  • The ant lion. A winged larval insect, which digs conical shaped sand traps to catch small ants to feed on.
Rufous elephant shrew photo

Rufous elephant shrew

Watch out for our next Africa themed blog, which will explore the fascinating lesser-known African species the continent has to offer.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Jan 9

Poachers have slaughtered an entire family of elephants in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park in an attack which has resulted in the country’s worst single loss of animals on record.

African elephant image

One of the world’s most iconic species, the African elephant is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Family fatality

The family of elephants, consisting of 11 adults and a young calf, were gunned down in a shower of bullets in a remote corner of Kenya’s largest wildlife reserve before having their tusks removed. This attack is the most recent in a string of elephant killings in Kenya which has seen the number of animals poached for their ivory double in less than two years, from 178 in 2010 to an estimated 360 in 2012.

This sudden surge in the slaughter of African elephants has been widely attributed to the rising demand for ivory in China and other Asian countries, where ivory trinkets are often viewed as a marker of wealth. While foot, vehicle and air patrols have all been deployed to catch the perpetrators of this latest attack, it is feared that the well-armed poachers may have already escaped with their haul of ivory, which could fetch up to £175,000 on the Asian market.

Every possible resource is being deployed to track down the criminals who carried out this heinous act,” said Paul Udoto, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service. “We’ve not seen such an incident in living memory, it’s the worst single loss that we have on record. It’s unimaginable.”

African elephant ivory image

Large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

The ivory trade

However much ivory is provided to the market, the appetite in Asian countries is insatiable and the criminals know that, and they will go to great lengths to find the tusks,” said Mr Udoto. “Africa has half a million elephants left, all together they would not be enough to satisfy the demand that has arisen.”

The next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the international body regulating the trade in threatened wildlife, is to be held in Thailand in March, when several African countries will lobby for permission to sell stockpiled ivory and use the revenue raised to fund conservation projects. However, many conservationists argue that permission given by CITES for a large amount of South African, Namibian and Botswanan ivory to be sold to Japan in a one-off deal in 2006 was the root cause of a resurgence in the demand for ivory.

African elephant image

African elephants playfighting

Further casualties

Africa’s majestic elephants are not the only species being targeted by poachers, with 633 rhinos also having been killed in South Africa last year alone. As a prized material for ornamental use and a valued ingredient in some traditional Asian medicines, a single rhino horn can fetch up to $12,000, which is a fortune in countries such as Kenya where much of the human population earns less than a dollar a day.

The resurgence of poaching is a tragedy and one of the biggest reasons is that we’re now talking about our last herds,” said William Kimosop, chief warden at a reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.

Fighting back

In response to the continued increase in rhino poaching, Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya is employing new and inventive methods to protect its wildlife. Home to four of the world’s seven northern white rhinos, Ol Pejeta has worked hard to ensure the safety of its animals, and is now turning to technology in the fight against poachers.

In the past, each rhino has been assigned its own round-the-clock armed guard to protect it. However, the Conservancy will now be deploying commercial aerial drones – similar to those used by the military to identify terrorist targets – to track rhinos across the reserve and give rapid warning of any unwanted human encroachment in the area, day and night.

These high-tech guards have been specially adapted to deploy high resolution cameras, as well as infra-red thermal imaging for use in night operations, and it is expected that the drone could cover a 10,000 acre area in a single flight. These electric-powered drones will cover the reserve far more effectively than a team of staff on the ground, and will enable armed wardens to be dispatched quickly if an animal is at risk.

It’s really difficult to fully track animals or poachers across such a huge area even with 160 rangers – it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Rob Breare, who works on strategy and innovation for the Conservancy. “We believe that a drone will be a significant deterrent to poachers, but it will also enable us to quickly send a highly-trained response team to an identified location if it reveals a threat.”

Northern white rhino image

A northern white rhino, only seven of which remain in the world

Aerial Rangers

Each drone, dubbed ‘Aerial Rangers’ by Conservancy staff, will cost $50,000 and have a wingspan of around 10 feet. Launched by a simple catapult, a drone will be able to fly over the reserve and stream live images back to base camp using an on-board GPS system to pinpoint exact locations. In future, the reserve plans to attach radio transmitters to each rhino, enabling the drone to identify and observe individual animals.

The Conservancy team has high hopes for these new flying guards, and is aiming to launch the first of several drones by March before expanding the fleet to neighbouring reserves. As well as being more efficient than a ground team, it is thought that the drones will be almost impossible for poachers to outwit.

Not only will drones provide better surveillance of remote areas, but they will be difficult for poaching gangs to target,” said Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta. “Eventually we feel that drones will assist conservationists to provide the sophisticated range of deterrents needed to protect wildlife not just across Africa but in many other parts of the world.”

 

Read more on these stories at The Telegraph – Kenya suffers worst single loss of elephants as poachers kill 12 and The Telegraph – Aerial drones to be thrown into fight to save Africa’s White Rhinos.

Learn more about efforts to monitor wildlife trade at TRAFFIC.

Find out more about African elephants and white rhinos on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Nov 22

Switzerland-based Save Our Species (SOS), a flagship species conservation initiative, has announced that it has secured US $2.5 million to fund 25 vital new projects.

Dugong image

The enigmatic dugong is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Vital funding

A whole host of threatened species – from dolphins and dugongs to rhinos and river turtles – will benefit from this second round of conservation projects supported by the SOS initiative. A global coalition initiated by IUCN, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank, SOS has secured a large amount of funding to enable the implementation of a wide variety of conservation projects, focusing on both charismatic and lesser-known species.

With more funding available from a broader range of sponsors and donors, we can be much more efficient in addressing the current biodiversity crisis. That is why we are ramping up our efforts in promoting SOS to individuals and companies alike with the possibility to make online donations while also engaging with several progressive industry leaders,” said Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme and SOS Director.

White-bellied heron image

The Critically Endangered white-bellied heron is the second largest heron species in the world

Positive impact

Since its launch in 2010, SOS has not only had a positive impact on wildlife, but also on local communities. It has so far supported projects targeting more than 150 species listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the newly secured funding will go some way to conserving many more. However, SOS staff warn that much remains to be done.

The latest injection of US $2.5 million doubles the number of active SOS projects, but much more needs to be done in the field of species conservation,” said Dr Vié. Every year we receive more project proposals than we can possibly fund and the selection process is extremely challenging.

Urgent response

In response to the current biodiversity crisis, with one in three amphibians and one in four mammals at risk of extinction, SOS has adopted a species-focused approach to conservation. Through channelling capital into conservation projects which are deemed to be engaging as well as technically sound, well designed and cost effective, SOS aims to halt biodiversity loss and boost the resources available for conservation.

Siamese crocodile image

The Siamese crocodile is classified as Critically Endangered

Select species

The new SOS projects will be implemented by NGOs across the Americas, Africa and Asia, starting immediately. Among the latest list of SOS-funded ventures are the implementation of measures in Mexico to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise species, a dugong conservation project in Mozambique, and a project to ensure the future survival of the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile in Cambodia.

Through focusing on the protection of a target species, some of the proposed conservation measures will actually benefit several others in the process. For instance, a project aiming to enhance protection of the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino is set to contribute towards the conservation of several other threatened charismatic species, including the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger.

Long-beaked echidna image

The Critically Endangered western long-beaked echidna is one of many enigmatic species set to benefit from the latest SOS funding

Halting biodiversity loss

The welcome news from SOS comes just a few weeks after the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, where 193 countries discussed ways of honouring their engagement to preserve nature and the services it provides. A recent report in Science calculated the cost of improving the status of threatened species up until 2020, quoting a figure of US $4 billion annually, and while this may seem like a monumental payout, this equates to just 1% of the value of ecosystems being lost each year.

We invite everyone who is interested and passionate about protecting the world’s animals and plants to join us and help answer the SOS call from the wild, so that we can do more for the amazing diversity of life on our planet on which our own lives depend so dearly,” said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.

 

Read more on this story at IUCN.org – Answering the SOS call from the wild: dolphins, rhinos, tigers and others to benefit from more funding.

Learn more about endangered species on ARKive.

Find out more about SOS – Save Our Species.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Sep 22

Have you ever wondered why rhinos seem to enjoy caking themselves in mud? Or pondered over what the collective noun for a group of rhinos is? Well fear not, inquisitive folk, because ARKive is here to answer your questions!

To celebrate World Rhino Day and help raise awareness for these magnificent mammals, we’ve gathered together some awesome images and fascinating facts about the five (yes, five!) different species of rhino for you to enjoy.

I’m a sensitive soul…

Black rhino image

Black rhino wallowing

Despite their tough-guy appearance, rhinos actually have quite sensitive skin. By wallowing in mud and allowing it to dry, rhinos are essentially covering themselves in a protective layer which acts as a barrier to biting insects and the sun’s harmful rays. I’m all for environmentally friendly products, but I’m not sure I’ll be trying this particular natural sun-screen method myself next summer…!

High-speed horn

Northern white rhino image

Northern white rhino running

They may look chunky and unable to move at more than a slow trot, but don’t be fooled! Black rhinos can run at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour, and can change direction rapidly. However, this species is definitely more of a sprinter than a marathon contestant, and can only run at this speed in short bursts.

Pucker up!

Black rhino image

The black rhino has a pointy, prehensile upper lip

One of the easiest ways to tell black and white rhinos apart is by checking out the shape of their lips. As browsers, black rhinos have a pointy, prehensile upper lip to pluck fruits and leaves from trees, whereas the square-lipped white rhinos are grazers, acting much like giant lawnmowers as they plod through the grassy savannah.

Can we have an ‘awww’?!

Southern white rhino image

Young southern white rhino

Baby rhinos are cute! OK, this may not technically count as a top fact, but I still think it’s accurate! White rhino pregnancies last for a whopping 16 months, and the calf drinks its mother’s milk for 1 to 2 years.

Military mammal?!

Indian rhino image

Indian rhinos have a somewhat armour-plated appearance

The Indian rhino has an armour-like appearance, due to the ‘plates’ of skin that cover its body. Indian rhinos often play host to avian hitchhikers, with various species of ‘tick birds’ riding on their backs. These birds are thought to feed on parasites found between the lumpy folds of the rhino’s skin.

Crash, bang…wallow?!

Souther white rhino image

A group of rhinos is known, rather appropriately, as a 'crash'

The collective noun for a group of rhinos is (drum roll, please!)…a crash! Need we say more?!

A rhino-saur…

Javane rhino image

A secretive Javan rhino

The prehistoric-looking Javan rhino is thought to be one of the most endangered rhino species of all. In fact, the Vietnamese Javan rhino, a subspecies of the Javan rhino, was driven to extinction in 2010.

The furry one

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is covered in reddish-brown hair

The Sumatran rhino is the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. This fact gave it its genus name Dicerorhinus, which comes from the Latin words for two (di), horn (ceros) and nose (rhinos). This species is also rather distinctive in that it is covered in reddish-brown hair. Despite being big and bulky, the Sumatran rhino is surprisingly agile, and is a decent swimmer.

Blind as a…rhino??

White rhino image

Rhinos have poor eyesight

Rhinos may have sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell, but they have very poor eyesight, and white rhinos are only able to see up to a distance of about 20 metres or so.

Help for the horned ones

Southern white rhino image

Southern white rhino

Rhino horns grow as much as 8 centimetres a year, and have been known to grow up to an incredible 1.5 metres! Sadly, rhinos are often poached for these horns, which are believed by some cultures to have medicinal properties. However, there is no scientific evidence for this, and in actual fact rhino horn is made of keratin, the same substance found in our own hair and nails. All five rhino species are threatened with extinction, and urgent action is needed if these magnificent creatures are to survive for future generations to admire.

Get involved

For more information about World Rhino Day, and events and activities in your area, visit the World Rhino Day website.

To learn more about rhinos and their conservation, visit the International Rhino Foundation.

To find out more about the rhino crisis, visit Saving Rhinos.

And finally, don’t forget to check out our rhino conservation board on Pinterest.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

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