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Rhino poach­ing nearly out­num­bers births experts warn

pub­lished 01 Decem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

In response to a per­ilously ris­ing tide of rhino poach­ing around the world, global con­ser­va­tion experts gath­ered two weeks ago at Busch Gar­dens® in Tampa, call­ing for an end to the epi­demic. The Inter­na­tional Rhino Foun­da­tion (IRF) con­vened experts from Zim­babwe, South Africa, Indone­sia, India and the United States and released the “State of the Rhino,” which details the sta­tus of rhi­nos glob­ally. The group reports that rhi­nos are fast approach­ing a tip­ping point, with poach­ing deaths nearly out­num­ber­ing births after two decades of pop­u­la­tion recovery.

white rhino poaching“This is sim­ply unsus­tain­able and is a seri­ous threat to the con­ser­va­tion gains of the last sev­eral decades,” said Susie Ellis, IRF’s exec­u­tive direc­tor. “If we do not take this poach­ing cri­sis seri­ously and take urgent action, we could see the per­ma­nent loss of viable rhino pop­u­la­tions that ensure long-​term sur­vival of the species. These poach­ing lev­els threaten to wipe out decades of con­ser­va­tion progress, and it is imper­a­tive that we take action now.”

The group released the “State of the Rhino” report as part of its pdf2012 Annual Report5.72 MB, offer­ing new data on rhino poach­ing and action steps for suc­cess­ful, last­ing con­ser­va­tion. In response to a dra­matic spike in poach­ing in Africa since 2008, IRF is re-​launching Oper­a­tion Stop Poach­ing Now, a cam­paign to pro­vide train­ing and equip­ment to anti-​poaching units in Zim­babwe and South Africa known as Rhino Pro­tec­tion Units (RPUs), as well as edu­cate the pub­lic on the increased threat to the species.

These poach­ing lev­els threaten to wipe out decades of con­ser­va­tion progress, and it is imper­a­tive that we take action now
Susie Ellis, IRF’s exec­u­tive director »

So far in 2013, 827 white and black rhi­nos have been poached in South Africa alone. By Sep­tem­ber, poach­ing num­bers in the coun­try topped the annual record of 668 set in 2012, which amounted to two rhi­nos killed each day. By com­par­i­son, only 13 rhi­nos were poached in South Africa in 2007. Rhi­nos in Africa are poached pri­mar­ily for their horn, which was tra­di­tion­ally used in Chi­nese med­i­cine but is now con­sid­ered a pres­ti­gious com­mod­ity in Viet­nam. Mean­while, two of the five rhino species — Indonesia’s Javan and Suma­tran rhi­nos — remain close to extinc­tion as two of the world’s most endan­gered large mam­mals. Both species — Rhi­noc­eros sondaicus and Dicerorhi­nus suma­tren­sis — are listed as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered by The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

Reports from anti-​poaching organ­i­sa­tions and field experts point to the prob­lem, as well as the pos­si­ble solutions.

“There is an incred­i­ble team of ded­i­cated peo­ple try­ing to stop the tide,” said Elise Daf­fue, founder of Stop Rhino Poach­ing, a South Africa-​based group rais­ing aware­ness and sup­port for the war against rhino poach­ing. “But unfor­tu­nately, with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of poach­ing groups across South Africa, it’s proven to be a dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing task.”

All five liv­ing rhino species (black, white, Indian greater one-​horned, Suma­tran and Javan) face a ter­ri­ble threat — from poach­ing, from for­est loss and habi­tat con­ver­sion, and from human set­tle­ments encroach­ing on their habi­tats in Africa, Indone­sia and India. IRF works to pro­tect par­tic­u­larly threat­ened rhino pop­u­la­tions and their habi­tats in the wild, invest­ing resources where the need is greatest.

“Despite the cri­sis, there is hope for rhi­nos,” Ellis said. “We believe that the sit­u­a­tion can be turned around. The stick­ing point is whether rhino coun­tries like South Africa and con­sumer coun­tries like Viet­nam and China will enforce their laws, as well as whether coun­tries like Indone­sia will take the bold actions needed to save Suma­tran and Javan rhinos.”

Suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion solu­tions
Despite dark spots over the last year, species con­ser­va­tion efforts have achieved success.

In Zim­babwe, through a part­ner­ship with the Lowveld Rhino Trust, IRF has helped to keep the rhino pop­u­la­tions from going extinct through its Zim­babwe Lowveld Rhino Pro­gram. The Lowveld area now holds 90 per­cent of the country’s rhi­nos. Despite 2012’s high­est lev­els ever of poach­ing across Africa, poach­ing has decreased sig­nif­i­cantly over the past sev­eral years in Zim­babwe. And in 2012, 33 calves were born, includ­ing the 100th calf born in the Bubye Val­ley Con­ser­vancy since intro­duc­tions began in 2002. This pop­u­la­tion is now grow­ing at nearly 10 per­cent per year.

In South Africa, IRF has focused resources toward very spe­cific niches: assess­ing secu­rity needs and pro­vid­ing train­ing and equip­ment to areas that need an infu­sion of exper­tise to increase their abil­ity to suc­cess­fully han­dle poach­ing incur­sions. IRF also is explor­ing the use of tracker dogs to assist in anti-​poaching activ­i­ties.

In Kenya, the birth of a new black rhino at Ol Pejeta Con­ser­vancy in Octo­ber shows there is still hope for this Crit­i­cally Endan­gered species. It is the Conservancy’s 100th black rhino of its pop­u­la­tion, which has been steadily built up from 20 indi­vid­u­als in the 1990s to the 100 being pro­tected today. The Kenyan sanctuary’s black rhino pop­u­la­tion is the most impor­tant in East Africa for rhino con­ser­va­tion. It is an internationally-​recognised rhino con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme receiv­ing key finan­cial and tech­ni­cal sup­port from Fauna & Flora Inter­na­tional (FFI) since 2006. The new birth has led to Ol Pejeta’s black rhi­nos being des­ig­nated as the first Key I pop­u­la­tion in East Africa — a rat­ing given by the IUCN’s African Rhino Spe­cial­ist Group to iden­tify pop­u­la­tions of con­ti­nen­tal impor­tance and help guide donor funds towards the most effec­tive con­ser­va­tion efforts.

In India, IRF’s joint ini­tia­tive with the Gov­ern­ment of Assam, the Bodoland Ter­ri­to­r­ial Coun­cil, WWF-​India and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice — Indian Rhino Vision 2020 — saw 12 more rhi­nos translo­cated to Manas National Park in India, for a total of 18 ani­mals now pop­u­lat­ing the park. Last year, the first birth occurred in the park, a good sign that the pro­gram is well on its way to being suc­cess­ful.

In Indone­sia, video cam­era traps — placed in Ujung Kulon National Park in 2012 as part of IRF’s Javan Rhino Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram — helped park staff to iden­tify 35 dif­fer­ent Javan rhi­nos, out of a pre­sumed pop­u­la­tion of about 44 ani­mals. Sur­veys there are con­tin­u­ing, backed up by the cam­era traps and col­lec­tion of feces for DNA analy­sis. In June 2012, the first calf was born at the Suma­tran Rhino Sanc­tu­ary as the result of a breed­ing pro­gram in exis­tence since 1998. Through its Suma­tran Rhino Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram, IRF con­tin­ues to fund and co-​manage the facil­ity with part­ner Yayasan Badak Indone­sia. In addi­tion, after the dis­cov­ery of fresh foot­prints of a Suma­tran rhi­noc­eros in Kali­man­tan, Bor­neo, early 2013, footage has been cap­tured later this year — using video cam­era traps — of the rare Suma­tran rhino in East Kalimantan.

Ratu, one of the three adult female rhi­nos at Indonesia’s Suma­tran Rhino Sanc­tu­ary, gave birth to a 27-​kg male calf. Not only was this Ratu’s first baby, but it was the first Suma­tran rhino ever born in cap­tiv­ity in Indone­sia and only the fifth ever born in cap­tiv­ity worldwide:

Sea­World & Bush Gar­dens Con­ser­va­tion Fund’s role
Busch Gar­dens, through its Sea­World & Busch Gar­dens Con­ser­va­tion Fund, has been a key sup­porter of IRF’s pro­grams in crit­i­cal areas, such as Zim­babwe, since 2005. Since its incep­tion in 2003, the Sea­World & Busch Gar­dens Con­ser­va­tion Fund has part­nered with grantee organ­i­sa­tions focus­ing on species research, habi­tat pro­tec­tion, ani­mal res­cue and reha­bil­i­ta­tion, and con­ser­va­tion edu­ca­tion, con­tribut­ing more than $10 mil­lion to about 600 projects in 60 countries.

Of that, the Fund has granted $400,000 to 29 rhino-​based con­ser­va­tion projects since 2004. Part­ner­ing on nine dif­fer­ent projects in Zim­babwe since 2005, IRF and the Sea­World & Busch Gar­dens Con­ser­va­tion Fund have helped return the country’s crit­i­cally endan­gered black rhino pop­u­la­tion to slowly increas­ing. Tour guides spot­light this con­ser­va­tion work for guests when they visit Busch Gar­dens’ rhino facil­i­ties. The Con­ser­va­tion Fund’s newest sup­port for rhino con­ser­va­tion and anti-​poaching is with the Wilder­ness Foun­da­tion and The Man­tis Col­lec­tion in South Africa.

(Source: IRF media release, 22.11.2013; FFI news, 28.11.2013)

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