On the Brink of Extinction: Protecting the Vanishing Rhinoceros
Working together to save the majestic rhino
By: Theresa Donarski, Curator of Conservation and Animal Care
Rhinos have existed on Earth for more than 50 million years but with increased poaching, even in protected areas, every species of rhino is now threatened with extinction.
There are five species of rhinos. Two species (black and white) occur in Africa. Three species (greater one-horned, Javan, and Sumatran) occur in Asia. Seventy-five percent of all surviving rhinos live in South Africa.
During the last century, the black rhino, like Timu and Kianga who live at the Racine Zoo, has suffered the most drastic decline in total numbers of all rhino species. Between 1970 and 1992, the population of this species decreased by 96%. In 1970, it was estimated that there were approximately 65,000 black rhinos in Africa – but, by 1993, there were only 2,300 surviving in the wild. Intensive anti-poaching efforts have had encouraging results since 1996.
Numbers have been recovering and still are increasing very slowly. With the growing purchasing power of many Asian countries, and the existence of organized gangs of poachers who sell rhino horns to black market syndicates for $65,000 per kilogram, the illegal poaching threat remains great and anti-poaching efforts must be continued and accelerated. China and Vietnam remain the largest markets where the demand for horns is high.
Rhino horns are valued as powerful medicine that cures everything from fevers to hangovers. There is absolutely no truth to these claims. Rhino horns are made up of keratin, the same material fingernails are made of.
In order to obtain a rhino horn, poachers shoot the rhino with a tranquilizer gun, cut off the horn with a machete and leave the rhino to bleed to death and die. In some cases, the rhino is shot and killed before the horn is removed. This is completely senseless and incredibly inhumane. To make matters worse, poaching often takes place in protected areas.
In response to this global crisis, non-profit organizations such as the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) protect particularly threatened rhino populations in the wild, while supporting management of and research on captive populations to improve the chances for long-term survival of all rhino species.
With programs in Asia and Africa, the IRF aims to prevent further decline in wild populations and to support research to develop successful captive breeding programs throughout the world.
How Can You Help the Rhino?
•Participate in special events such as International Rhino Day, Cinco de Rhino, and other programs sponsored by the Zoo
•Make a donation to the IRF. All funds go directly toward supporting anti-poaching initiatives, rhino research, and rhino conservation programs
•Educate your children about the importance of respecting and conserving wildlife. Visit the Zoo and learn about Timu and Kianga.
By working together, we can help to ensure that every species of rhino is allowed to live on Earth for many more millions of years.
For more information on rhino conservation, visit the following websites:
World Wildlife Fund: www.wwf.org.za/act_now/rhino_conservation/
International Rhino Foundation: www.rhinos-irf.org/
Save the Rhino: www.savetherhino.org