December 24, 2009
Four of the world’s remaining eight Northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) are settling in to their new home in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya. They were shipped to the reserve from Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic, where they’ve been for the past 30 years. The two remaining Czech Northern white rhinos and two Northern white rhinos at the Wild Animal Park, in San Diego, aren’t reproductively viable, so the four now in Kenya are the last hope of continuing the genetic line.
The Northern white rhino has a sad history. From the 1970s to the 1980s, their population was reduced to 15 due to poaching. Earlier in this decade, that population had doubled and seemed to be on the slow road to recovery. Since 2003, though, the last remaining Northern whites were killed and the species has been extinct in the wild until this week’s transfer. At this point, the goal is merely to pass on as much of the subspecies’ lineage as possible. Rob Brett, director of Flora and Fauna International, acknowledges that inter-breeding with Southern white rhinos in Kenya is “inevitable”.
Whether or not they will even be able to breed is still up for debate. San Diego Wild Animal Park mammal curator Randy Rieches contends that there is no chance of breeding in the herd, due to reproductive pathologies that set in after a period of reproductive dormancy. On the other hand, Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvůr Králové zoo, said at the time of the transfer, “I feel so happy. It’s my birthday today and this is like a gift to Africa. There is a 90 percent chance they will reproduce and I hope that we will start a new group of Northern White rhinos in Africa.” Clearly, the jury is still out on the rhinos’ fate, and only time will tell.
The money for the transfer was supplied by Alastair Lucas, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia, explicitly for the purpose of relocating these rhinos.
September 9, 2009
Large game poaching in Africa is reaching a fever pitch. The level of rhino poaching is about to hit a 15-year high, in a situation described as “bleak” in a report presented earlier this year at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee in Geneva. The report, “Status, Conservation, and Trade in African and Asian Rhinoceroses” (PDF), was published by TRAFFIC, WWF, and the IUCN. According to the WWF, “Illegal rhino horn trade to destinations in Asia is driving the killing, with growing evidence of involvement of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals in the illegal procurement and transport of rhino horn out of Africa.”
In South Africa and Zimbabwe alone, about 12 rhinos are killed each month, with elaborate cover-ups protecting the perpetrators. Compared with the rate of one to three rhinos killed per month from 2000 to 2005 in the entire African continent, the situation is clearly dire. Africa only has approximately 18,000 rhinos left, and has only reached that number after decades of assiduous conservation efforts. I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be for groups that have worked so hard to rebound rhino populations to see these animals poached to supply Asian “medicine”. I’m trying hard to be impartial here, so let’s just stick with the facts:
In early July, Kruger National Park in South Africa announced their plan to auction off up to 350 white rhinos to the highest bidders (usually game hunting reserves who cater to tourists). As hunting and poaching within the park is increasing dramatically, selling off rhinos to be legally killed seemed like a strange response. The Telegraph and Ecoworldly both have reports of the controversy, including an explanation of how this hunting loophole enables illegal wildlife trade.
Later that month, the tame, hand-reared white rhino Toliwe was poached in Mount Savannah reserve, in South Africa. He was found with his horn partially hacked off, after someone flying over the reserve saw poachers trying to remove his horn and called the authorities. Toliwe’s owner, Rob Dickerson, has said that the rhino was likely still alive while his horn was being hacked off, and is offering a substantial reward for information about the murder.
At the beginning of August, Ecoworldly picked up the story of Andrew Malone, a reporter for the UK’s Daily Mail. Malone went undercover, posing as a buyer of illegal rhino horn, and exposed part of an underground poaching cartel known as “The Crocodile Gang” operating out of Zimbabwe. The article includes mentions of a subsequent cover-up when poached horns are discovered, as well as death threats made against Malone for his role in the exposé.
Less than a week later, the second rhino poaching within a week in KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa, is reported. The seven-year-old white rhino even had a tracker assigned to protect her from poachers, to no avail. She was discovered, as so many rhinos have been reportedly found: lying dead with her horn hacked out of her face.
Thankfully, there’s been some good news out there, too. Tanzania charged six businessmen for poaching and smuggling illegal ivory in July. Four men responsible for two of the KwaZulu-Natal rhino poachings were arrested last month. Eight poachers were killed in armed confrontations (it would have been more fitting to have their fingernails cut out of their hands before they died, but oh well) in an anti-poaching effort in Zimbabwe. In the same operation, 46 black rhinos were relocated to safer locations.
Naturally, China denies allegations that it has any links to the rise of game killings.
You can donate to Save the Rhinos International for Zimbabwe’s rhino crisis. Then, to perk you up a bit, read about this: