Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Black Rhinoceros and calf

This Saturday 22nd is World Rhino Day. For many of us Rhino lovers around the world this is a time when we try and shine the spotlight on these incredible animals. Despite rhinos having roamed our earth for 14 million years, in this present day there’s a very real threat that the last five remaining species may become extinct.

Alarmingly, well-equipped, sophisticated organized crime syndicates have killed more than 800 African rhinos in the past three years - just for their horns.  The horns now hold a greater street value than gold and it has become the new cocaine, the white powder of choice for the social elite in some overseas countries. It’s thought that the horns can cure cancer, are powerful aphrodisiacs and can treat a number of ailments, but the horns are made out of keratin. They have no medicinal powers at all and would have the same effect if we ground up our fingernails and swallowed them.

The numbers of rhinos being poached each year isn’t sustainable.  Just last week the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Sumatran Rhinoceros as one of  the 100 most threatened species across the world that would disappear from our world altogether if nothing was done to protect them.

At Taronga, we are serious about wildlife conservation and are working hard to help rhinoceros through our Zoos’ programs and also in the wild. Did you know that we are a proud founding member of the International Rhinoceros Foundation? Through the IRF we help fund monitoring and anti-poaching patrols in Zimbabwe as well as providing veterinary treatment and rescue at-risk rhinos, moving them to safer grounds. Due to these intensive efforts, the Zimbabwe population of Black Rhinos is now the fourth largest African population!

Our vets, pathologists and reproductive biologists are also working closely with the staff of Indonesia’s Way Kambas Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, in fact, earlier this year, our vet Dr. Benn Bryant from Taronga Western Plains Zoo was on hand for the birth of Ratu the Sumatran Rhinoceros’ male calf, a very precious addition to the Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros population. It’s thought that as few as 200 of these animals may remain in the wild, so this birth was cause for exultation.

Combined with our efforts in the field, our rhinoceros breeding program at Taronga Western Plains Zoo is world-renowned. We’ve welcomed 11 Black Rhinoceros calves into the world since we established the herd in 1994 when a population of these animals were transferred from Zimbabwe to Dubbo. In case numbers in the wild collapse, we’ve also got Black Rhinoceros genes cyro-preserved in our Frozen Zoo in our laboratory at Taronga Western Plains Zoo and in 2008 we achieved a world first by successfully artificially fertilising a Black Rhinoceros egg.

So, although much of the news for world rhino populations is doom and gloom, there’s some hope to celebrate.

Many people may think there ‘s nothing they can do for Rhinos when we live in Australia but iIt’s as easy as being aware what you buy when you’re overseas or if you have a few spare dollars, a donation to the International Rhino Foundation this World Rhino Day wouldn’t go astray. They do amazing work and many of the members of the poaching patrols literally put their lives on the line to protect some truly amazing animals that the world would be the poorer without.

Cameron Kerr
Director, Taronga Conservation Society Australia
IRF Board Member

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