First published 18/9/18.
What’s the state of the Rhino? World Rhino Day is celebrated on September 22nd every year, enabling cause-related organisations such as The International Rhino Federation to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino and highlight its issues. #WorldRhinoDay #TeamRhino
World Rhino Day was first announced by WWF-South Africa in 2010, growing in 2011 into an international success, encompassing both African and Asian Rhino species, and uniting concerned organisations, businesses and individuals from all around the world.
The current rhino poaching crisis began in Zimbabwe, where the difficult socio-economic and political climate facilitated rhino poaching, but soon turned to South Africa which holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos, and the country hit hardest by poaching. The South Africa poaching crisis began in 2007, with 9000% increase in rhino poaching 2007-2014 and more than 1000 rhinos killed each year 2013-2017 to a peak of 1,349 in 2015. Around 50% are poached in Kruger National Park. Around 2013, the poaching crisis extended to other countries such as Kenya and Namibia (Save The Rhino).
Thankfully, since then there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across Africa. This may demonstrate that the anti-poaching work is having an effect, or may demonstrate that with significantly fewer rhinos surviving in the wild, it is getting harder for poachers to locate their prey.
The State of the Rhino 2019
2.5 rhinos are still killed every single day.
In August 2019, the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs announced 318 rhinos had been poached in the first 6 months of the year.
Good news may mark the turn of the tide for the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino: Since Sudan’s death in 2018, only 2 female relatives who cannot carry a pregnancy remain. But in September 2019, ground-breaking work by Ol Pejeta Conservancy and partners resulted in the first ever successfully matured and fertilised in-vitro embryos, which will be transferred into a surrogate mother. One of 6 potential surrogate mothers, Victoria, already gave birth following successful innovative artificial insemination.in July to a Southern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo, California.
Plans are underway to to save the Sumatran Rhino : The Indonesian government has launched the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, a huge, multi-stage, multi-year emergency action plan. How do you save a Rhino population? Details below
The State of the Rhino 2018
For five years, African rhinos have been poached at a rate of three per day.
Overall, two-thirds of the world’s five rhino species could be lost in our lifetime.
The Sumatran rhino is the most in peril. It may well be the most endangered large mammal on Earth with population numbers less than 80, a decline more than 70% in the past 20 years.
In 2018, the death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, garnered huge public attention and empathy.
Black Rhino are suffering from the poaching epidemic but population numbers are at around 5000, up from 2300 in the last 25 years.
In 2018, figures showed a dip in rhino poaching in South Africa for the 4th year in a row; the first time that poaching dipped below 1,000 since 2012
769 rhino poaching incidents were recorded in South Africa in 2018: down 259 on 2017’s 1028, but still high at 2.1 per day (Save the Rhino).
Despite these statistics, Rhino conservation has seen some great success. Ten years ago, roughly 20,800 rhinos roamed Earth. Today, rhino numbers hover around 29,500 – a 41 percent increase in a decade.
The Rhino Species
There are 5 species of Rhino, full name Rhinoceros, in the odd-toed ungulate family Rhinocerotidae.
Two species are native to Africa: the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) and the White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum).
Three species are native to Southern Asia: the Great One Horned Rhino, also known as Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), native to India and Nepal, the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) found in Java Island, Indonesia and Vietnam, and the Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) also known as the Hairy Rhino, native in Sumatra Island Indonesia, Southern China, Bhutan, Cambodia and Borneo.
More details below.
The White Rhino - The “Square-Lipped” Rhino
The Northern White Rhino
The northern white rhino is a subspecies of white rhino, which used to range over parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their home range devastated the populations. By the time expert trackers determined that they were extinct in the wild in 2009, only a handful of zoo animals remained, none capable of breeding. In 2018, the death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, a member of a functionally-extinct subspecies of White Rhino, left only two females: his daughter and his granddaughter.
To try to preserve the species, genetic material was collected from Sudan before he was euthanised for yet-unproven costly and complicated procedures using advanced reproductive technologies including stem cell technology, artificial insemination and IVF with eggs from southern white rhino females in European zoos, so that his death will not signal the end of the species.
The northern white rhino females cannot mate with a black rhino, but could mate with a southern white rhino, which are not endangered though a different subspecies genetically. The offspring would not be 100% northern white rhino, but experts believe it would be better than nothing.
Sadly though, neither of Sudan’s female relatives, Najin and Fatu, were able to carry a pregnancy, but a groundbreaking procedure carried out on August 22nd 2019 meant they still could mother the next generation of northern white rhinos: 5 eggs were harvested from each of the females in an operation that has never been attempted in this species before, of which 7 (4 from Fatu and 3 from Najin) were successfully matured and artificially inseminated through ICSI (Intra Cytoplasm Sperm Injection) with frozen sperm from two different deceased northern white rhino bulls, Suni and Saut, on August 25th 2019.
The results of this announced 11th September 2019 that two northern white rhino embryos had been successfully matured and fertilised: both using eggs from Fatu, the youngest of the two northern white rhinos, and frozen sperm from Suni a deceased northern white rhino male. The embryos will be frozen in liquid nitrogen and later transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother (Ol Pejeta Conservancy).
The Southern White Rhino
For Southern White Rhino, births barely outstrip deaths, due to being the poaching target for gangs in Africa. That said, the Government of South Africa and dedicated conservationists teamed up to bring the southern white rhino back from fewer than 100 individuals in the early 1900s to roughly 20,000 today. They are still Near-Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
The Black Rhino - The “Hook-Lipped Rhino”
By 1993, less than 2,300 rhinos remained from more than 65,000 in the 1970s. Now, black rhino numbers hover around 5,000 animals, but, like white rhinos, are being particularly hard-hit by a poaching epidemic. They are critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
The Greater One-Horned or Indian Rhino
Thanks to strict protection by government authorities in India and Nepal (such as protection by military conscripts), has rebounded from fewer than 200 individuals to more than 3,550 today.
The Sumatran Rhino
In existence longer than any other living mammal and considered “primitive”, the Sumatran Rhino is also known as the Hairy Rhino as it is the hairiest of all species especially on the ears and tail, and is by far the smallest species of rhino.
Due to hunting for its horn and forest habitat loss (much due to palm oil deforestation), in Asia, fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos remain, a population decline of more than 70% in the past 20 years. Sumatran rhinos were declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Three small, isolated populations exist on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, plus it is believed that fewer than 10 of the Bornean subspecies of rhino survive in small and highly fragmented populations in eastern and central Sabah, with similarly low numbers in Kalimantan, Indonesia. With such low numbers, the threats to the species now include the low probability of fertile females and males meeting in the wild, ageing without reproducing, or inbreeding.
The Sumatran rhino is not just a unique species - it’s in its own genus, Dicerorhinus, separate from all other living rhino species. It means Sumatran rhinos’ behaviour, nutrition, and reproductive physiology is different from other rhino species.
Remaining populations are heavily guarded by anti-poaching units, with a very real danger of becoming extinct soon without intervention.
How do you rescue a rhino population?
Plans are underway to safeguard and increase the Sumatran Rhino population: The government of Indonesia has launched the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, a huge, multi-stage, multi-year emergency action plan to save the Sumatran rhino, working with an alliance of international rhino conservation organizations including the International Rhino Foundation. The stepped program will:
Survey & Capture - gathering information on individual rhinos to determine their locations through camera traps, to capture them in pit traps - the best way in the dense Indonesian jungle, with soft muddy bottom to cushion a rhino’s fall, covered to camouflage, with veterinary teams, rangers, and transport staff on stand-by ready to act immediately to…
Translocate - From the pit traps, the rhinos are manoeuvred into crates to move the rhino to pre-determined locations by truck and even plane. With security and safety paramount, the new location may be initially a temporary ‘boma’ holding pen home to acclimatisation and monitoring medically, or to another permament (semi/)wild home, such as large specialised rhino conservation breeding facilities - there are just two currently but with plans for a third.
Breed - In the history of Sumatran rhino captive management, only two facilities have been successful in breeding the species — the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens in the USA, and the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia - with only 5 Sumatran Rhinos born in captivity. 4 now live at the SRS. T
To support the new program, the SRS will be expanded and its facilities and management practices replicated in two other locations in Indonesia to accommodate the rhinos that will be rescued from surrounding areas and the offspring they produce. Between the 3 facilities, the Sumatran rhinos will be managed as a meta-population - one large breeding group - to increase the chances of successful births and strengthen the genetic diversity of the population over time. With a gestation of around 16 months, a female Sumatran rhino gives birth only every 3-4 years – it could take decades to rebuild the population to sustainable numbers.
Reintroduction - returning rhinos to the wild depends on the success of the breeding program, continued protection programs (which will never stop), and habitat restoration projects. Reintroduction will likely happen slowly over years, and captive breeding will continue until there is sufficient evidence that wild populations are growing and thriving.
There are no more than 67 animals, found only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, where they are heavily protected, and under serious threat from potential eruptions of close-by Krakatoa, the volcano that devastated the region in 1883, and “Anak Krakatau,” or Son of Krakatoa, also active a short way away.
Despite some successes, Rhinos are amongst the most endangered species on the world, requiring expensive round-the-clock guarding from the ever-present threat of poaching.
Work is also being done to stem demand for rhino horn and thus poaching, China and Vietnam being the top two consumer countries, and to intensify international pressure on country governments to enforce wildlife crime laws.
Rhino conservation initiatives and activities help create the funds to raise awareness for the plight, support the species guarded protection and invest in innovative scientific means of species conservation, to ensure these species don’t go extinct.
As The Last Northern White Rhino, the demise of Sudan, “the most prolific rhino ambassador in history”, is hoped to be seen as a seminal moment for conservation worldwide, to ensure this does not happen to any other Rhino species.
Thanks to The International Rhino Federation for the information, please support their Save The Rhino campaigns and join #TeamRhino this World Rhino Day
See for yourself: You may see Rhino in the wild with Earth Changers in Kenya.