Rhinos

Rhino PortraitThis month we are concentrating on the amazing rhinoceros.

Unfortunately, like many of the world’s most unique species, these amazing creatures are under a lot of pressure to survive, and three of the remaining five species are listed as critically endangered.

Read on to find out more about rhinos, their plight and what we can all do to try to make sure they are around for future generations to enjoy.

Sad rhino facts

With the western black rhino declared extinct in 2011, only five species remain:

Black rhino (Africa)

  • Estimated number left: 5000
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

White rhino (Africa)

  • Estimated number left: 20,000
  • IUCN classification: not classed as threatened at the moment (hurray!)

Greater one-horned rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 2900
  • IUCN classification: vulnerable

 Sumatran rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 200
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

 Javan rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 50
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

Greater one-horned rhinoTwo major issues facing the rhino

1. The illegal rhino horn trade

This is the single biggest threat to the survival of the rhino. Although international trade in rhino horn has been banned since the 1970s, poaching is still a huge problem. In fact, alarmingly the WWF reported that poaching levels in Africa have actually increased dramatically since 2007.

This is because demand for rhino horn remains high, particularly in Asia where it is highly prized (it’s more expensive than gold!). Here it is considered by many to have medicinal qualities even though there is no scientific evidence to show this is the case.

This has led to the creation of highly organised criminal poaching groups. Enforcement agencies are struggling to cope with these criminal organisations, which are well funded and use highly advanced technology like night vision equipment, silenced weapons, tranquilliser guns and helicopters to kill rhinos.

2. Destruction of habitat

Habitat loss is another threat to rhinos, particularly in Asia. This loss is largely being caused by expanding agriculture and intensive (unsustainable) logging.

Black rhino South AfricaAnd the good news …

As you know, at Cool To Be Kind To Animals we also want to make sure we show you the positive things people are doing to help and to show you how you can do your bit.

WWF

When the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) launched their African Rhino Programme in 1997, there were only 8466 white rhinos and 2599 black rhinos remaining in the wild. Today it is estimated there are more than 20,000 white rhinos and almost 5000 black rhinos. Great work!

The WWF also runs the Asian Rhino and Elephant Strategy and continues to work on establishing new protected areas, improving security monitoring to protect rhinos from poaching and improving local and international law enforcement to stop the flow of rhino horn.

What about rhino horn farming?

A number of researchers, including Dr Duan Biggs of the University of Queensland, argue that there is another way to protect the rhino: farming.

These researchers argue that if we start humanely farming horn and operating a highly regulated legal trade, we could undercut criminal gangs. They also point to the crocodile skin trade in Australia as an example of how a highly regulated legal trade can benefit a threatened species.

In theory, farming is possible because rhino horn is mostly made of keratin (a substance we have in our hair and nails) and if shaved off, will regrow.

But not everyone agrees this is the future. The WWF feels that places like Vietnam just don’t have the enforcement regimes in place and such a scheme would just provide a way of ‘laundering’ illegally poached rhino horn. There is also some concern about the effect of having no horn on rhino behaviour.

Interesting … What are your thoughts on this idea?

White rhino and baby in KenyaWhat you can do to help

1. Don’t buy rhino horn products

If you do receive treatment from a traditional Asian medical practitioner make sure that the products you are being prescribed are free from rhino horn. Rhino horn is traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments, so if you’re unsure – ask.

2. Use sustainable wood, paper and palm oil

Make sure you are not contributing to habitat destruction by purchasing sustainable paper, wood and palm oil.

With paper and wood, look for FSC, PEFC and Australian Forestry Standard certified or recycled products.

Avoiding unsustainable palm oil can be a bit trickier but is really important because it is threatening the survival of many endangered and vulnerable species, not just rhinos. Palm oil is in a huge number of cosmetic and food products but it can be hard to identify because it’s often labelled as vegetable oil in food or appears as a chemical component in cosmetics.

Initially, look for RSPO certified products but if you can’t find their symbol don’t get disheartened. Lots of global food and cosmetic brands like Unilever, McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson are recognising that using palm oil is causing a big problem and are taking steps to ensure their products only contain sustainable palm oil. Why not check your favourite brands’ websites to see what their sustainability policies are?

For more information on sustainable palm oil check out the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil website.

3. Support the WWF’s efforts

Donate or learn more about the WWF’s great work to protect rhinos and other animals on their website. You can even adopt a rhino!

Get involved with CTBK

Like what you read? The Cool To Be Kind To Animals project needs your help to grow into a successful animal care educational movement. Please share this article to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos and the project.

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Take care – of all animals! The Cool To Be Kind To Animals team

Information sources: WWF, National Geographic, BBC, ICUN, The University of Queensland.

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