Sep 22

Happy World Rhino Day!

Today marks the second annual World Rhino Day, and this year the day is dedicated to everyone involved in protecting rhinos. Here at ARKive we have decided to help raise rhino awareness the best way we know how, by taking you on an audio-visual rhino tour, exploring the reasons these particular perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates) are worth celebrating and saving!     

Photo of a Sumatran rhinoceros feeding on vegetation

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest rhino species and the most endangered

The Fantastic Five     

There are five species of rhinoceros surviving today, ranging from the statuesque white rhinoceros to the diminutive Sumatran rhinoceros. They may differ in looks and distribution, but they share a number of common characteristics including a herbivorous diet and armour-plated appearance.     

Indian rhinoceros adult with young, photo

The Indian rhinoceros has a pronounced armour-plated appearance

What’s in a name?     

Rather confusingly, despite being called the ‘black’ and ‘white’ rhinos the two African species of rhinoceros are actually both glorious shades of grey. The name ‘white’ is thought to be a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’, as the white rhino has a broad, square mouth in contrast to the pointed, prehensile lip of the black rhino.

 Eastern black rhinoceros feeding on a thorn bush         Southern white rhinoceros, showing diagnostic wide mouth

Let’s hear it for the horn  

The word rhinoceros is derived from the Greek meaning ‘nose horn’, and it’s not hard to see where the inspiration came from, given that the horns are probably the rhino’s most distinctive feature. Whether they have a single horn like the Indian and Javan rhinoceros, or two horns like the black, white and Sumatran rhinos, all rhino horns are made of fibrous keratin, rather than bone.    

Photo of a white rhinoceros grazing

White rhinoceros grazing

The problem…    

The greatest threat to rhino survival is poaching, as rhino horn is still in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicines and as decoratively carved ceremonial dagger handles. Habitat loss and deforestation have also increased the pressure on the forest dwelling Javan rhino making the populations increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters and disease.    

Photo of a Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

The Solution?    

All is not lost however, there are a number of conservation efforts in place in an attempt to stabilise rhino populations including captive breeding programmes, rigorous protection of rhino populations in protected areas and de-horning to reduce the incentives to poach. None of this work would be possible without the work of dedicated individuals and organisations who devote their lives to the conservation and protection of rhinos – Rhino Heroes we salute you!    

Confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhino horns

Black rhinoceros guarded against poachers

Black rhinoceros guarded against poachers



















  

Get involved   

Follow World Rhino Day on Facebook.  

Find out more about the organisations working to protect the world’s rhinos and learn how you can get involved by visiting WWF, International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino International

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Aug 22

The UK has secured an international agreement to clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is now in such high demand that it is being sold for more than diamonds, gold and cocaine.

Photo of southern white rhinoceros eating grass

Southern white rhinoceros

“Conservation crisis”

With myths about its medicinal properties fuelling high demand in Asia, rhino horn is now worth over £50,000, or $82,400, a kilo. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horns in countries such as South Africa, in what conservationists have called a “poaching crisis”.

The new agreement, reached at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, will involve countries and conservation groups sharing policing techniques and working on awareness campaigns. The UK will also lead global talks to fight the myths about the medicinal properties of rhino horn.

Photo of confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhinoceros horns

The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, described the illegal trade in rhino horns as “cruel and archaic”.

Criminals trading in rhino horn have lined their pockets while bringing this magnificent animal to the brink of extinction, but their days are now numbered,” she said.

We will be leading global action to clamp down on this cruel and archaic trade, and to dispel the myths peddled to vulnerable people that drive demand for rhino products.”

Photo of mutilated Indian rhinoceros

Mutilated Indian rhinoceros with its horn removed

Tighter export rules

Last year, after detecting a rise in the number of rhino horn products being sold through auction houses in Britain, the UK’s Animal Health agency warned that it would be refusing almost all applications to export rhino horn items.

The tighter rules come amid fears that the legal export of “worked items”, created and acquired before 1947, is being used to send rhino horn to Asia to be powdered down and used in the medicine trade. This could further increase the demand for illegally poached horns.

Under the new rules, export licences for rhino horn products will only be granted under special circumstances.

Photo of black rhinoceros feeding

Black rhinoceros feeding

As part of the clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horns, the UK will also be supporting a workshop in South Africa in September, to help develop better co-operation between countries where rhinos are poached and the countries where the horns are sold.

Read the BBC News story – UK to lead international rhino horn clampdown.

View photos and videos of rhinoceros species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 28

Populations of tigers, elephants, rhinos and many other species are being decimated by immense organised crime syndicates and the illegal wildlife trade, according to a recent paper by WCS conservationist Elisabeth Bennett.

Photo of a Sumatran tigress

Sumatran tigress

Illegal trade in wildlife parts is becoming increasingly sophisticated, backed by highly efficient organised crime rings. This, coupled with dated enforcement methods, is causing populations of some of the world’s most charismatic species to plummet on an unprecedented scale.

The paper, published last month in Oryx, suggests that much of the trade is driven by wealthy East Asian markets that have a ‘seemingly insatiable appetite’ for wildlife parts.

Demand driven by East Asian markets

High-value body parts and products, such as rhino horn and bear bile, are just two of the much sought after items often destined for East Asian markets. Each year, international organisations such as TRAFFIC and CITES report on hundreds of cases of illegal trade in wildlife from around the world.

According to Bennett, sophisticated smuggling operations carried out by organised crime syndicates have allowed the gangs to devastate wildlife populations more than ever before.

Photo of skins of poached Indian rhinoceros, Nepal

Skins of poached Indian rhinoceros, Nepal

Current enforcement systems were not established to tackle wildlife crime seen on today’s scale, and weak governance and inadequate resources facilitate the flourishing trade. The paper highlights some of the elaborate methods used by the crime rings, including hidden compartments in shipping containers, rapidly changing smuggling routes to avoid detection, and the use of e-commerce (buying and selling online), making it difficult to detect locations.

“Unless we start taking wildlife crime seriously and allocating the commitment of resources appropriate to tackling sophisticated, well-funded, globally-linked criminal operations, populations of some of the most beloved but economically prized, charismatic species will continue to wink out across their range, and, appallingly, altogether” says Bennett.

Urgent need for law enforcement

In her paper, Bennett highlights that enforcement of wildlife laws is an immediate short-term solution to stave off local extinction of wildlife.

Enforcement includes everything from increasing the numbers of staff at all points of the trade chain, to ensuring that staff are highly trained and well-equipped. New technology may also help with enforcing wildlife laws, such as smart-phone apps with species identification programs.

Photo of a guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Enforcement is critical,” says Bennett, “Old-fashioned in concept but needing increasingly advanced methods to challenge the ever-more sophisticated methods of smuggling. When enforcement is thorough, and with sufficient resources and personnel, it works.”

Success in tackling the devastating illegal trade in wildlife, says Bennett in her paper, will necessitate commitment from governments and non-governmental organizations and the support of civil society.

Read the WCS Press Release.

Read the paper in Oryx.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 5

Nearly 200 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the first half of 2011, according to new figures released by the national parks department.

Photo of Southwestern black rhinoceros male charging

Southwestern black rhinoceros male charging

Unprecedented levels

A record 333 rhinos were killed by poachers in 2010, and this figure looks to be exceeded in 2011 if the current rate of poaching continues. Kruger National Park continues to be the hardest hit, having lost 126 rhinos to poaching since the beginning of the year.

South Africa is home to the largest populations of African rhinos, including the white rhino and the Critically Endangered black rhino. The sharp increase in rhino poaching in the last few years is being fuelled by the demand for horns in Asia, where they are highly valued in traditional medicine.

Sophisticated criminal gangs

Poaching is being undertaken almost without exception by sophisticated criminals, sometimes hunting from helicopters and using automatic weapons,” says Dr Joseph Okori, WWF’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator.

South Africa is fighting a war against organized crime that risks reversing the outstanding conservation gains it made over the past century.”

Photo of adult and young eastern black rhinoceros drinking

Adult and young eastern black rhinoceros drinking

South African authorities have responded to the recent poaching crisis with more effective law enforcement measures, so far resulting in 123 arrests and 6 successful convictions in 2011.

We are pleased to see more successful convictions of poachers,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa. “Applying strict penalties for wildlife crimes such as rhino poaching will demonstrate the South African government’s commitment to maintaining this important part of the country’s heritage.”

Photo of male southern white rhinoceros drinking at waterhole

Male southern white rhinoceros drinking at waterhole

Spread of poaching sparks further fears

However, despite this apparent step forward in convicting poachers, there are fears that the poaching surge shows no sign of flagging. Furthermore, Swaziland lost its first rhino to poaching in nearly 20 years in June, sparking worry that the crime wave could be spreading to neighbouring rhino range countries.

The poaching surge shows no sign of abating,” says Tom Milliken, Elephant & Rhino Programme Coordinator with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group.

Only a concerted international enforcement pincer movement, at both ends of the supply and demand chain, can hope to nip this rhino poaching crisis in the bud.”

Read the WWF Press Release.

Find out more about the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Scientific Text Author

Jun 22

Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in the eastern Himalayan foothills of India is on the road to recovery, as illegal logging and wildlife poaching have declined and wildlife populations have increased. 

Following the advice of the IUCN, this protected area has now been removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Photo of Indian rhinoceros covered in mud, with mynah birds along back

Indian rhinoceros

A rapid decline in wildlife and the eradication of the Indian rhino during a decade-long insurgency led to the inscription of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. 

However, a UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission to the sanctuary earlier this year noted that huge progress has been made to increase the populations of key species, including tigers, Asian elephants and Indian rhinos. Threats have declined significantly and the park infrastructure has improved, according to the mission report. 

The great efforts by the Indian authorities to support recovery of wildlife populations and improve the overall park management have brought about a positive change for one of India’s natural treasures,” says Tim Badman, Director of the IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. 

The Sanctuary is on a good track, but the work and funding to secure its future need to be sustained.”

Photo of barasingha with velvet on antlers

Barasingha with velvet on antlers

Reintroduction of the Indian rhino to Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is currently underway, with funding for conservation projects secure until the end of the year. 

The mission report recommended that a restoration programme be established for the barasingha, also known as the swamp deer, as it seems unlikely that this species will recover without direct conservation efforts. It also suggested that a tourism management plan be developed with local communities, so that ecotourism can be established as an alternative livelihood. 

Peter Shadie, Deputy Head of IUCN Delegation, added “While the focus of media and public attention is usually on the new sites to be added to the World Heritage List, the protection of sites already on the list plays an equally important role in ensuring the future of our world heritage.” 

The List of World Heritage in Danger is a practical way of providing support to the sites that need it the most.”

Read the IUCN press release – Manas Wildlife Sanctuary on the road to recovery. 

View more images and videos of the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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