World Rhino Day 2019 Archives - Rhino Review

International World Rhino Day Speaking Competition (South Africa)

By Conservation, Education
Lapalala Wilderness School | September 30, 2019


The Lapalala Wilderness School (LWS) in the far north of South Africa has a history spanning more than three decades and in that time tens of thousands of children, students and teachers have passed through this centre of environmental learning and have been transformed by the experience. To celebrate International Rhino Day, a speaking competition was organised. It was an exceptional event, conducted by MC Johannes Monyeki from LWS in a spirit that stimulated genuine competition, but at the same time encouraged new levels of networking, interest and discussion in a wide range of community schools on rhino poaching in South Africa, and on options for introducing mitigation strategies to reduce the threat to rhinos.

The competition attracted 40 children for 21 Schools, and each had between three to five minutes to speak on the following topic. What are the social, political and economic impacts of rhino poaching in South Africa? Develop an argument and present possible solutions to the impacts and challenges. Each speaker was assessed by a panel of four judges (Letticia Mahlatji from Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, Jessica Babich from Save the Waterberg Rhino, Ndifelani Mulaudzi from Endangered Wildlife Trust and John Hanks from LWS), based on ten judging criteria.

Original photo as published by Lapalala Wilderness School: Competitors, judges, visitors and LWS staff at the conclusion of the competition.

Competitors, judges, visitors and LWS staff at the conclusion of the competition.
Considering the age of the competitors, the standard was remarkably high. It was most encouraging to hear the passion and enthusiasm of the speakers for a what is a complex subject embracing issues of community involvement, economic importance of tourism and other values of rhinos, law enforcement (and the efficacy of sentences for poaching), biodiversity conservation, and the general lack of a political commitment to address rhino poaching.
The names of the top eight and the prizes they received are as follows:
1. Mmabatho Nkae Mothoa (Ramogabudi Secondary School, Maroteng Village). Laptop, Printer, Mouse and bag.
2. Lebogang Dikgashu (Ebenezer Secondary School, Mahwelereng Township). Laptop, Mouse and bag.
3. Koketso Augustine Mochoeneng (Ramogabudi Secondary School, Maroteng Village). Camera, 16 gig Memory card and printer.
4. Isabel Mohumutsi (EDL Rampolo Secondary, Mahwelereng Township). Study Aid Material for R3,000.
5. Tshepang Chauke (EDL Rampolo Secondary, Mahwelereng Township). Voucher for R3,000 for school uniform material.
6. Ted Marothi ( Sekoba Secondary School, Mapela Hans Gamasenya). Voucher for R3,000 for school uniform material.
7. Marry Nkwana ( Nkgaru Secondary School, Nkgoru Village). Voucher for R2,500 for Study aid material.
8. Gift Kgabane (MC Langa High School, Mapela Mmhlongo Village). Backpack with all stationary material.

Original photo as published by Lapalala Wilderness School: Mmabatho Nkae Mothoa (third from right) receiving the top award with the four judges and a teacher (in white). In addition, each competitor received a mounted trophy for entering the competition.

Original photo as published by Lapalala Wilderness School: The competition winner – Mmabatho Nkae Mothoa – being interviewed by Letticia Mahlatji for Waterberg Waves.

The prizes were of a very high standard and were generously sponsored by My Planet Rhino Fund (Administered by the Endangered Wildlife Trust), the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, Save the Waterberg Rhino and Tintswalo Lodge Lapalala.

This was an exceptional event, conducted by MC Johannes Monyeki from LWS in a spirit that stimulated genuine competition, but at the same time encouraged new levels of networking, interest and discussion in a wide range of community schools on rhino poaching in South Africa, and on options for introducing mitigation strategies to reduce the threat to rhinos.

One Land Love It for Heritage and World Rhino Day 2019 (South Africa)

By Conservation, Education
R News | September 25, 2019

Read the original story here

PORT ELIZABETH: As proud South Africans celebrated Heritage Day on the 24 September, it is significant that World Rhino Day also falls on the same long weekend. We come together to honour one of our Big Five, the iconic yet endangered rhino.

World Rhino Day is a day to celebrate our rhino, and as a society of responsible citizens, to reflect on their diminishing numbers and the possible solutions to halting this decline and indeed, re-establishing the population.

South African based non-profit organisation, One Land Love It, commonly known by the acronym OLLI, set about creating awareness this World Rhino Day.

Original photo as published by R News: As proud South Africans celebrated Heritage Day on the 24 September, it is significant that World Rhino Day also falls on the same long weekend. We come together to honour one of our Big Five, the iconic yet endangered rhino.

“We wanted to give people across the globe the opportunity to do something physically to contribute to the rhino poaching solution – this by means of a collective demonstration of pro-rhino sentiment, a petition in movement if you like,” explained Wayne Bolton, founder of the organisation.

“By means of this initiative aptly named OLLIMove, people were urged to perform any physical activity including running walking, cycling, dancing, literally any activity that embodied the message of “moving from caring to doing”.

Participants logged their activity on the OLLI organisation’s website, or alternatively on the free mobile app, Strava, under the OLLI Move Club.

“Our inaugural event was a success,” said Bolton, “we saw participation of people representing 22 countries across the globe, and a variety of “moves” from across South Africa. As people came to understand the concept, they demonstrated real interest in being involved.

Local initiatives on the day included: a “move” from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town up Table Mountain’s Devil’s Peak (SANParks) led by local actor Ashley Dowds, a 24 hour beach hike in KwaZulu-Natal led by adventurer Grant Melville (in collaboration with the KZN SANParks Honorary Rangers) and a hike in the Zuurberg Mountains in SANParks’ Addo Elephant National Park.

In Port Elizabeth Collegiate Girls’ Junior School engaged their pupils in making their Inter-House Road Running event an OLLI Move, as did Woodridge U15A Cricket team at the Grey Cricket Festival. Besides many independent “moves”, a group of enthusiastic bike riders and runners braved the poor weather to “move” along the Port Elizabeth beachfront to the distinctive Cape Recife Lighthouse.

“It is the intention of One Land Love It to make this an annual event. As support grows around the world, more awareness will be created. In a democratic society awareness is essential as it presents opportunities for ordinary people to make their voices heard to influence policy makers to act in the interest of our environment,” said Bolton.

In the first 6 months of 2019, 318 rhino were killed for their horns. This is less when compared to the 386 killed over the same period in 2018. Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Barbara Creecy, said that: “Not only is rhino poaching once again showing a decline, but our successes in the courts are also noteworthy.”

This sounds like good news but in light of the recently postponed closing of Skukuza’s “poaching” Court, a symbol of justice for our rhinos with a 99.8% conviction rate, we realise that we cannot lose momentum. We need to continue to apply pressure on policy makers and to speak for those who cannot speak.

Minister Creecy acknowledged that the battle to end poaching is far from over but that collaborative efforts are paying dividends.

“South Africa has for years been at the forefront of the fight against rhino poaching and illegal wildlife trade. The cooperation between enforcement agencies and government departments, the collaboration with private rhino owners, NGOs and other stakeholders can be seen as the most important reason for the continuing decrease in rhino poaching in South Africa.”

The OLLI foundation not only focuses on saving our rhino, but argues that if society cannot find solutions to the rhino crisis, it stands little chance of resolving other environmental issues. As stewards of our natural heritage we need to be informed and invested. Extinction cannot be our legacy.

One Land Love It NPC uses funds raised through donations to further the fight against wildlife crime. To donate or find out more, visit www.move.oneland.co.za. To find out more see: www.move.oneland.co.za.

“We do not want to say we stood by and watched as the rhino became extinct in our lifetime – we urgently need to move from caring to doing!” OLLI

Good Morning Angels: World Youth Wildlife Summit aims to bring change

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education

Breakfast with Martin Bester, Jacaranda FM | September 25, 2019

See link for photo & 9-minute audio.

Rhinos are one of our most extinct species in the world. Good Morning Angels are dedicating the morning to the lives of those with no voices.

BACKGROUND: “A rhino is slaughtered every 9 hours and 20 000 elephants still fall to poachers’ guns every year”: according to Kingsley Holgate, humanitarian explorer dubbed ‘the most travelled man in Africa’. Most of these rhinos are killed in South Africa. Holgate and celebrity explorer, Sibusiso Vilane will join the 2019 World Youth Wildlife Summit taking place this South African heritage week near the Kruger National Park. 200 national and international youth delegates representing 16 countries will attend. Vilane, a game ranger who became famous as the first African to summit Mt Everest says about the youth attending the summit: “I believe that they do not want to inherit an environment that is so polluted and has no wildlife. They are the future custodians of this heritage and therefore they must take the lead.”

South Africans can support the conservation of our wildlife heritage, by supporting this bi-annual summit, that coincides with the 10th World Rhino Day on Sunday 22 September.

“This is going to be an authentic African-led Summit for youth leaders, which will delve deeply into the causes of wildlife poaching and the illegal international wildlife trade…” : says Summit Director, Francois du Toit from Project Rhino. He believes that developing the full potential of the wildlife economy, would not only save species from extinction but also economically empower communities living closest to wildlife sanctuaries, like the Kruger. “In Africa, 3.6 million people are employed in the wildlife economy, which creates 40% more full-time jobs than the same investment in agriculture. It has twice the job creation power of the automotive, telecommunications and financial industries and provides more job opportunities for women compared to other sectors”, says Du Toit.

Original photo as published by Jacaranda FM. (Source: Instagram)

The cost of bringing a youth delegate to the summit is R10,000,00 and this bill is footed by donors.

REQUEST FOR: The 2019 World Youth Wildlife Summit

ANGEL: Muhammed Tootla, DHL Express South Africa Head of IT

SPONSORING: DHL Express South Africa is turning 50 on 25 September 2019. To mark the occasion they will donate R50000,00 to fund the participation of five delegates to the 2019 World Youth Wildlife Summit and in this way, invest in our youth and wildlife heritage

South Africa’s celebrity adventurers and explorers Sibusiso Vilane and Kingsley Holgate will join the conservation sector’s ‘Big Guns’ at the 2019 World Youth Wildlife Summit this coming weekend near the Kruger National Park, which will also commemorate the 10th international World Rhino Day on Sunday 22 September.

200 youth delegates, teachers and community leaders from 16 countries will descend on the Southern African Wildlife College, for an intensive four-day programme led by 30 of Southern Africa’s most experienced conservationists who are giving freely of their time to share their knowledge and skills.

International delegates include students from the African Leadership University in Rwanda, community youth from the Serengeti region of Tanzania, San delegates from Namibia, representatives from eSwatini and Mozambique, a pupil from Eton College in England, as well as Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Greek, Norwegian and Vietnamese delegates. Students from the Tshwane University of Technology and youth from rural communities bordering Kruger National Park and game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape will also attend.

Sibusiso Vilane started out as a game ranger before becoming one of South Africa’s most celebrated adventurers, best known for being the first African to summit Mt Everest and reach both the South and North Poles. Yet conservation and working with young people remain close to his heart. “I feel very strongly that young people should be engaged and involved in conservation and understand the poaching crisis and global wildlife crime issue, because it is their heritage that is being lost,” he explained. “I believe that they do not want to inherit an environment that is so polluted and has no wildlife. They are the future custodians of this heritage and therefore they must take the lead.”

Humanitarian explorer and Land Rover Ambassador Kingsley Holgate, widely known as ‘the most travelled man in Africa’, says that on all his expeditions, conservation and working with the youth are key elements. Currently, on a Zambezi-Congo expedition east-to-west across Africa, Holgate will return briefly to South Africa to attend the World Youth Wildlife Summit. Speaking by telephone, he said, “I’ve seen the decimation of Africa’s wildlife first-hand. It is unacceptable that a rhino is still slaughtered every 9 hours and 20 000 elephants still fall to poachers’ guns every year. So wherever possible on our journeys though Africa, we provide humanitarian support to field rangers and people living on the borders of wildlife parks, to help build good relations between conservation agencies and their community neighbours.

“Empowering young people about the escalating wildlife poaching crisis through our Rhino and Elephant Art conservation education programme is also very close to my heart,” he continued. “This year’s World Youth Wildlife Summit is absolutely and critically needed at this time, when, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than one million species on Earth are facing extinction.”

Vilane and Holgate will be joining conservation leaders that include globally respected South African wildlife vets Dr William Fowlds and Dr Johan Marais; Maria Diekmann, an African Pangolin specialist from Namibia; Ivan Carter from Zimbabwe, well-known for his wildlife TV series, Carter’s W.A.R; and Bupe Banda, female head of Zambia’s National Community Resources Board. Don English, head of the Kruger National Park’s Intensive Protection Zone section and the acclaimed all-women Black Mambas anti-poaching unit will also interact with the delegates, along with 23-year-old Nadav Ossendryver, founder of the award-winning ‘Kruger Sightings’ YouTube channel and recently nominated as one of Africa’s future leaders on the Forbes Africa ‘30 Under 30’ list.

Other high-profile guests who will attend the Summit include David Young, Chargé d’Affaires for the US Embassy in South Africa and senior executives of SANParks. John Scanlon, former Secretary-General of CITES and now Special Envoy for the African Parks group will join the Summit by video-link, as will Bonne de Bod and Susan Scott, producers of the internationally acclaimed South African wildlife documentary, STROOP – journey into the rhino war, which will be broadcast on DSTV on World Rhino Day, Sunday 22 September.

“This is going to be an authentic African-led Summit for youth leaders, which will delve deeply into the causes of wildlife poaching and the illegal international wildlife trade that costs the world over US$20 billion each year,” said Summit Director, Francois du Toit from Project Rhino. “It will also discuss other critical issues that are contributing to the decimation of our iconic ‘Big 5’ species like the rhino, elephant and lion; for example, human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and the need for communities to benefit from the wildlife economy.

“It is high time that Africa’s – and the world’s – wildlife is recognized as more valuable alive than dead,” he continued. “According to the latest study by the World Travel & Tourism Council, global wildlife tourism generates five times more revenue than the illegal wildlife trade. In Africa, 3.6 million people are employed in the wildlife economy, which creates 40% more full-time jobs than the same investment in agriculture. It has twice the job creation power of the automotive, telecommunications and financial industries and provides more job opportunities for women compared to other sectors.

“Our overriding aim is to provide the youth delegates with the knowledge and tools they need to become influencers and wildlife ambassadors in their home countries and communities and take the lead in speaking out on behalf of endangered species and habitats that are in serious threat of extinction in their lifetime.”

Protecting South Africa’s rhinos—some progress perhaps, but a battle far from won

By Antipoaching, Conservation
Peter Borchert, Editor-in-chief, Shannon Elizabeth Foundation | September 23, 2019

Given that Sunday just past was the 10th World Rhino Day since WWF South Africa inaugurated the event in 2010, it was appropriate that Barbara Creecy, the South African Minister for the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries gave some insights into the state of rhinos in the country, covering the first six months of the year. After all, notwithstanding the ravages that poaching has wrought, the White and Black Rhinos of South Africa still represent by far the greatest numbers of the great, gray beasts to be found anywhere in the world. So, what happens to them in Africa’s southernmost land remains of immense importance to all five species, no matter where they are on the rest of the continent and in Asia.

There is no escaping the fact that the White Rhino, the most populous member of the family, has been particularly hard hit precisely because of its numbers and density in several South African reserves. And it is a sad reality that Kruger National Park, for more than a decade now, has borne the brunt of the devastation. In 2010, just after the poaching alarm bells started ringing, the White Rhino population of Kruger stood at some 10,600. Now there are fewer than half that number.

Indeed it has been a great loss, but it is important now to regularly assess what is being done to halt the slaughter and to reverse the trend. And in that respect, there is some apparently good news as the leveling off of killings from the horrendous high of 2014 not only continued during the following years but started to fall. This trend persists and although progress was modest, the latest figures show a further drop: South Africa lost 386 rhinos for the period January to the end of June 2018, but this fell further to 318 for the same period this year (more than half of them—190—in Kruger).

There is a caveat, however. Make no mistake, any drop in the killing rate is to be welcomed, but bear in mind that as something becomes rarer it is inevitably harder to find. So, as the population as a whole has fallen, it makes sense that fewer rhinos are being poached. The real worry has to be that such is the determination of the poaching syndicates to acquire horn that their efforts, if anything, are intensifying.

Certainly, the percentage of rhinos being killed shows no meaningful drop. In 2010 Kruger probably had somewhat more than 11,000 rhinos in total (10,600 White and some 400–500 Black). So, over the worst poaching years, when an average of upwards 800 Kruger rhinos were being taken each year, this would have been something of the order of seven percent of the total. This on top of natural mortalities, could not be sustained and, predictably, numbers crashed.

Fast forward to 2017 when Kruger’s rhino population sat at around 5,300–6200 (White 4,759–5,532 and Black 427–586) and the statistics showed that some 505 rhinos were poached in the park that year. This means that somewhere between 8.2 and 9.5 percent of the remaining rhinos had been taken and that poaching pressure was indeed increasing.

Knowing this, it hardly seems possible that there could have been any population recovery in 2018 and 2019—to the contrary, it is very likely that numbers would have dropped further. We know that 190 poaching deaths occurred in Kruger the first six months of this year and even if this figure is contained to around 300 for the full year, as a percentage of the remaining rhinos it remains frighteningly high.

Any optimism in this regard seems misplaced: in 2017, 1,702 poaching activities were recorded in the park and in 2018 this rose to 1,873. In the first half of 2019 some 1,202 poaching incursions and activities were recorded (already 64 percent of the 2018 total), and unless a major fall-off in poaching is currently taking place, the final figure could well exceed 2,000 for the year.

Minister Creecy, however, focuses on the headline decrease in the number of rhinos: “Not only is rhino poaching once again showing a decline, but our successes in the courts are also noteworthy … Although the battle to end poaching is far from over, we are proud to say that our efforts as a government, as private rhino owners, and as concerned citizens, are paying dividends as we continue to implement the Integrated Strategic Approach to the management of rhino”.

Putting a positive spin on the situation is understandable, and her enthusiasm for the collective efforts of government and civil society on behalf of rhinos is certainly warranted. One shudders to think where the species would be without these efforts, not only in South Africa but in many other range states as well.

Tracker and sniffer dog teams, anti-poaching units working in extremely dangerous conditions, forensic scientists, technology experts working with cameras, drones and long-distance detection devices, special police units, prosecutors and the courts, law-makers, those working on demand reduction, with communities and the youth, and many more are playing a pivotal role and deserve our undying gratitude for the work they are doing.

But while we look for the positive in our efforts, let not self-satisfaction blind us to the reality of what remains a very, very serious situation.

Sumatran rhino rescue highlights one year of achievements, next steps

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab
National Geographic | September 21, 2019

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On World Rhino Day (September 22), Sumatran Rhino Rescue, a groundbreaking, collaborative approach to conservation, celebrates its first anniversary. In support of the government of Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan to save the Sumatran rhino, Sumatran Rhino Rescue brings international and Indonesian NGOs together to create and implement a collaborative plan to save the species, working hand in hand with on-the-ground partners and coordinating closely with leaders in government.

The Sumatran rhinoceros has lived throughout Southeast Asia for millennia. But over the past century, its population has been nearly erased as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Today there are fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the world. Hanging on to existence in 10 fragmented subpopulations across two islands, this rhino is so rare that few people have ever seen one in the wild. Separated by mountainous terrain, Sumatran rhinos now struggle to find mates in the wild to propagate their next generation.

In its first year, Sumatran Rhino Rescue has made important progress toward saving the Sumatran rhino from the brink of extinction:

We successfully rescued and relocated a critically endangered but healthy female rhino from an isolated region in Indonesian Borneo to a secure facility in Kalimantan.

Our partners at the International Rhino Foundation and Yayasan Badak Indonesia completed an expansion of the Way Kambas Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), which will provide space for an additional five rhinos.

Our team secured approvals to build a new SRS in northern Sumatra, which will provide additional homes for rhinos rescued from the wild.

We created the first-ever 3D scan of resident rhino Harapan at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia. The scan is being used as an education and outreach tool to raise public awareness of the species.

We created the Sumatran Rhino Husbandry and Propagation Expert Advisory Board to guide the implementation of the Emergency Action Plan, ultimately helping the government of Indonesia maximize population growth and oversee the care of Sumatran rhinos in the sanctuaries.

Sumatran Rhino Rescue welcomed the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Save the Rhino International Zoological-Botanical Garden Stuttgart, Wilhelma and Taronga Zoo Sydney as strategic partners to the groundbreaking effort to save the Sumatran rhino. These partners have a long history of conservation efforts to protect and care for many species of rhinos from Asia and Africa. Notably, scientific breakthroughs at the Cincinnati Zoo led to the first Sumatran rhino calf bred and born in a conservation breeding program in 112 years.

Looking forward, our second year represents a critical time in our efforts to save the Sumatran rhino. Over the next year, we aim to carry out a number of major activities to locate rhinos and incorporate them into the national breeding program. But an undertaking such as this requires significant investment. Our activities next year will only be possible with support from organizations and individuals around the world. Here are a few of the pressing activities we have planned in the coming year:

There are three rhinos we’ve identified that are in need of rescue in the next year. Relocating rhinos from the wild costs about $800,000 per rhino.

We urgently need to find more rhinos before it’s too late. Our systematic approach requires surveys of around 250 individual areas of Indonesia’s forests. Each survey costs approximately $6,000, meaning we will need $1.5 million to carry out these critical search efforts.

We need to build and expand the facilities designed for caring for and breeding Sumatran rhinos. To begin work to build one brand new Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary and expand another will cost $2.8 million.

We can’t do this alone and need supporters and partners from around the world to do what they can to help save this unique and lovable species.

For more information and to learn how to contribute, visit www.sumatranrhinorescue.org.

Zero rhino poaching in Kunene conservancies in two years: Jagger (Namibia)

By Antipoaching, Conservation
Lela | September 21, 2019

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KHORIXAS: No rhino poaching was recorded in the past two years in communal conservancy areas of the Kunene Region, Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism (MET), Bernadette Jagger has said.

Jagger, speaking here at the celebration of World Rhino Day on Friday, said this is due to solid efforts by the Namibian Police, community members in the communal conservancies and rhino rangers.

The Kunene Region has the most freely roaming rhinos amongst communities in the country, she said.

To turn the tide on wildlife poaching and trafficking, the government has been working in partnership with the Government of the United States of America (USA) to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade, the deputy minister further added.

Rhinos are one of Namibia’s most endangered species and these animals bring in revenue from tourism that contributes to the country’s development, she observed.

Original photo as published by Lela Mobile Online.

MET is busy revising the National Strategy on Wildlife Protection and Law Enforcement and the revised strategy will respond to new challenges posed by poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.

In recent years, Namibia and the Southern African Development Community have experienced a surge in wildlife crime and illegal trafficking of wild animals – with over 9 000 African rhinos poached between 2007 and 2018.

Also speaking at the event, US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson said that wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar illicit business that is decimating Africa’s iconic wildlife population such as black and white rhino.

Wildlife crime undermines Namibia’s economic prosperity and threatens the country’s natural capital resources. It obstructs sustainable economic development, including the development benefits derived from legal nature-based enterprises such as tourism, she said.

Johnson noted that in Namibia, wildlife tourism is an increasingly important and growing industry that benefits both communities and the national economy.

She added that one of the successes thus far by the two governments is the promotion of community pride, combined with awareness creation around wildlife crime and this has proven to be the key in mobilising communities in the fight against poaching and wildlife trafficking.

At the event, about 25 rhino rangers that are in the field for over 15 years were awarded with certificates of appreciation.

World Rhino Day is observed annually on 22 September.

On World Rhino Day, looking back on an eventful year

By Conservation
Mongabay | September 22, 2019

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September 22 marks World Rhino Day, a global event established to celebrate the world’s five rhinoceros species, as well as to reflect on the challenges facing them.

Of the five rhino species living in Africa and Asia, three are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered: Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus), Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis). Meanwhile, White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) are considered near threatened, and greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) vulnerable to extinction.

The year that has elapsed since World Rhino Day 2018 has been a momentous one for rhinos and for the people working to protect them. Regardless of its conservation status, each species faces dangers ranging from poaching to tsunamis to overcrowding in protected areas. But it’s not all bad news, with conservation efforts sparking an upturn in numbers for several species and subspecies. Even in the most seemingly desperate cases, small victories can be found, such as the relaunch of a captive breeding program in Sumatra.

Here, we look back at Mongabay’s coverage of some of the biggest stories.

Original picture as published by Mongabay.com.

China Rescinds, Then Reinstates, Rhino Horn Ban

The Chinese government announced on Oct. 29, 2018 that it had legalized the “controlled” use of rhino horn and tiger bone for medical use and cultural purposes in the country. Under the new regulations, rhino horn and tiger bone from farmed animals would be allowed to be used for medicinal purposes, overturning a ban put in place in 1993.

Conservationists were alarmed. Even with a ban, black-market demand for rhino and tiger products remains high in China. Experts feared legalizing the trade would legitimize the use of such products and create an opportunity for illegally-procured animal parts to be laundered into the market. “With wild tiger and rhino populations at such low levels and facing numerous threats, legalized trade in their parts is simply too great a gamble for China to take,” the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said.

On Nov. 12, the government backtracked, saying it would maintain the ban while further studies are conducted. Wildlife activists expressed relief, but remain watchful.

New Sumatran Rhino Captive Breeding Effort Gets Underway

On Sept. 20, 2018 — just ahead of World Rhino Day — a coalition of international conservation organizations announced the official launch of Sumatran Rhino Rescue, an effort to support the Indonesian government’s captive breeding program for the Critically Endangered species. In the year since, a number of significant steps have been taken. Key among these was the successful Nov. 25 capture of a female Sumatran Rhino in Indonesian Borneo. The rhino, named Pahu, is the first new rhino added the breeding program since its relaunch as Sumatran Rhino Rescue.

Plans are also underway to build a network of sanctuaries where rhinos can be cared for and — researchers hope — breed, in a setting closely resembling their natural habitat. In addition to the existing facility in Way Kambas National Park where seven rhinos live, and the new center in Kalimantan where Pahu is living, the government has announced plans to open a sanctuary in the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra.

The May 2019 death of Tam, the last male rhino known to survive in Malaysia, added urgency to the call to intensify captive breeding efforts. Only nine Sumatran rhinos currently live captivity, and the wild population is believed to number no more than 80.

Tsunami Hits Javan Rhino Habitat

On Dec. 22, 2018, a devastating tsunami hit Indonesia’s Java Island, killing more than 400 people. The tsunami generated waves up to 5 meters (16 feet) high, some of which crashed ashore in Ujung Kulon National Park, the sole remaining habitat of the Javan rhino. Two park employees were killed and guard posts damaged, but no rhinos are believed to have been harmed. Park officials credit the rhinos’ survival at least partly to the animals’ natural instinct to seek high ground.

Conservationists have long warned that having the entire remaining Javan rhino population — currently estimated at 68 individuals — confined to a single habitat leaves the species highly vulnerable extinction due to natural disaster or disease.

Despite these warnings, Indonesian officials announced in July that plans to establish a second habitat for the species have been put on hold. Instead, efforts will concentrate on expanding the available habitat in and around Ujung Kulon.

Reckoning with Success in Nepal

Nepal has enjoyed extraordinary success at boosting the population of its greater one-horned rhinos. But this past year brought a reckoning. In March 2019, a Buzzfeed investigation revealed cases of alleged human rights violations around Chitwan National Park, highlighting how sweeping legal powers bestowed upon park rangers can negatively affect the lives of people living around protected areas.

Meanwhile, another problem is becoming apparent in Chitwan, the country’s main rhino sanctuary. Although poaching has been virtually eliminated, rhinos have not stopped dying. Instead, out of a population of around 600 rhinos, more than 45 have been found dead due to unexplained or natural causes since July 2018. The spike in unexplained deaths has led some to speculate that Chitwan has reached its carrying capacity for the species.

Black Rhinos Get New Homes

Efforts to reintroduce black rhinos to areas in which previous populations were wiped out by conflict or poaching have met with mixed success. In the wake of a botched 2018 translocation Kenya, where all 11 relocated animals died, Chad also faced a major setback. Six black rhinos were translocated from South Africa to Chad’s Zakouma National Park in May 2018. By November 2018, four had died.

In Rwanda, however, five eastern black rhinos (D. b. michaeli) were reported in August to have successfully completed an initial acclimatization period after being relocated from European zoos to Akagera National Park. They join with a herd of 20 who in 2017 were brought to the park from South Africa. Conservation efforts helped bring black rhino numbers from below 2,500 in the 1990s to more than 5,000 today, and despite the challenges, efforts are ongoing to reintroduce the species across its former range.



World Rhino Day 2019: Myth of magical horns, weaponisation of DNA and the uphill battle against poaching

By Antipoaching, Conservation
Simantik Dowerah, Firstpost | September 23, 2019

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Announced by the World Wildlife Fund-South Africa in 2010 to celebrate World Rhino Day on 22 September every year, the event took off on a global scale both on online and offline platforms when Lisa Jane Campbell of Chishakwe Ranch in Zimbabwe and founder of Annamitici joined hands with creative director Rhishja Cota in 2011 to create a massive awareness to protect all five species of rhinos — black, white, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan — from extinction.

“World Rhino Day was actually started by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-South Africa. However, we promoted the day to include all five species of rhino, which is very important because many people still do not know that three of the five rhino species are Asian rhinos,” said Cota in an email from Tucson, Arizona, “It is always a wonderful feeling to see all five rhino species getting recognised and celebrated around the globe. Rhinos are a beloved and iconic species, so people were — and still are — excited when about World Rhino Day. It is an excellent opportunity for NGOs, zoos, and the like to raise funds for conservation efforts.”

Annamiticus, named in memory of the extinct Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, is an independent voice in the wildlife conservation community.

The need for such a day was primarily felt to ignite a consciousness globally on the need to save this beautiful animal of the Rhinocerotidae family from its greatest enemy on earth: Man. The saving of this endangered species essentially meant waging perpetual war against poachers who are increasingly becoming well-equipped and dangerous. If there is any doubt on the valuation of the illegal rhino horn market, according to a report in The Guardian, “the black market value of one kilogram is said to be USD 100,000—more than the price of platinum”. Powdered horn can fetch up to €67,000 per kilogram.

Myth of Medicinal Value of Rhino Horns

In a study entitled Understanding utilitarian and hedonic values determining the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam published by Hoai Nam Dang Vu from the Vietnamese office of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and Martin Reinhardt Nielsen, Department of Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Sciences, University of Copenhagen in March 2018, the extent of use of rhino horns for wide-ranging reasons has been deeply examined.

“From treating cancer and erectile dysfunction to managing hangovers, the horns of endangered wild rhinoceros are widely used as a medical cure-all in parts of Asia. A new Danish-Vietnamese study from the University of Copenhagen uncovers new reasons for why Vietnamese consumers buy illegal rhino horn,” a press release on the study said.

“For us, the surprising trend is that horn is increasingly being used as a symbolic gesture to console terminally ill family members. The horns are intended to provide the ill with a final source of pleasure and to demonstrate that their families have done everything possible to help them,” the communique quoted Nielsen as saying.

The rhino horn is also used for treating hangovers and as a status symbol in business relations. Another piece on the use of rhino horns for sham treatment processes linked it with ancient Chinese medicines.

“According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-chen’s 1597 medical text “Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu”, rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” While it is commonly believed to be prescribed as an aphrodisiac, this is not the case,” the article in Save The Rhino said.

Not surprisingly rhino horn trade ranks among the most organised forms of environmental crime.

“The study suggests that information about the decline of rhinoceros populations and awareness about hunting being controlled by organised crime does not affect consumer demand. Dealing with the problem requires other strategies,” Nielsen said.

Menace of Rhino Poaching

Figures released by the WWF on the number of poaching incidents in South Africa is staggering.

“In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa. This is a slight decline from 1,175 in 2015 and 1,215 in 2014. The 2016 figures represent a loss in rhinos of approximately 6% in South Africa, which is close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point,” a WWF report said.

In Assam, the figures of rhino poaching are equally distressing. While in 2010, poachers killed 18 rhinos, eights were killed in 2011. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 a total of 26, 28, and 38 rhinos were killed respectively. The figures stand at three in 2015 and 20 in 2016.

With rhinos being killed in such huge numbers globally, there was an urgent need for a pioneering step to bring out the rhinos from the brink of extinction.

The RhODIS Intervention

Cindy Harper, general manager and extraordinary lecturer, The Onderstepoort Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in an article named Robust forensic matching of confiscated horns to individual poached African rhinoceros in the scientific journal Current Biology gave a sneak peek of her pioneering work RhODIS, which stands for Rhinoceros DNA Index System, when expanded.

“In Africa, wildlife rangers, law enforcement officials and genome scientists have instituted a DNA-based individual identification protocol using composite short tandem repeat (STR) genotyping of rhinoceros horns, rhinoceros tissue products and crime scene carcasses to link confiscated evidence to specific poaching incidents for support of criminal investigations. This method has been used extensively and documented in the RhODIS (Rhinoceros DNA Index System) database of confiscated horn and living rhinoceros genotypes, applications to collect field and forensic sample data and RhODIS® biospecimen collection kits. These are made available to trained RhODIS certified officials to fulfill chain of custody requirements providing a pipeline to connect illegally trafficked rhinoceros products to individual poached rhinoceros victims,” the article said.

Original photo as published by First Post: RhODIS training session at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Image courtesy WWF India.

The role of RhODIS in gathering incriminating evidence against suspects is in fact fast proving to be a critical requirement.

“Technology such as RhODIS has the power to provide the crucial evidence required for conviction, and also that this DNA technology is accepted as evidence in the court of law. One of the major challenges in tackling rhino poaching is that the suspects get released on bail due to lack of evidence,” said Udayan Borthakur, head, Wildlife Genetics Division of Aaranyak.

“DNA technology can be a strong weapon against crime and rhinos need all the help they can get. Javan and Sumatran rhinos are each down to fewer than 100 individuals each. They are in the direst straits of all five species,” Cota said.

RhODIS in India

Pathbreaking as it was in nature, the employment of genetically-linked techniques to convict suspects was a critical enhancement in the fight against rhino poachers.

“The tool was introduced in India in 2014 through a series of workshops to train officials of state forest departments and NGO members. Organised by WWF India and the Assam forest department, the workshops were planned as part of the Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 programme. One of the strategies of the IRV2020 is to protect the existing rhino population by introducing modern technological methods like RhoDIS to help curb poaching and scientific management of rhino population in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal,” said WWF India senior coordinator, rhino conservation, Amit Sharma.

“In 2015, scientists from Wildlife Institute of India and officials from MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) visited South Africa as part of a training programme facilitated by WWF where they received practical experience and benefit of the tool was demonstrated by officials of Kruger National Park,” Sharma said.

Following the training, an effort was made to establish a unit in India on a similar model.

“In 2016, RhODIS India was launched by the MoEFCC in partnership with Wildlife Institute of India, forest departments of Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh and WWF India. WII houses the RhODIS laboratory for the DNA database. With financial support from WWF India, RhODIS India was rolled out in the country and the support has been used to make the RhODIS laboratory functional for the initial three years,” he said.

Discussions to extend this support is ongoing and the MoEFCC has provided the assurance to allocate funds for RhODIS from the next financial year.

“The progress of RhODIS implementation is reviewed by the MoEFCC on an annual basis,” Sharma said.

RhODIS and Assam

Home to the greater one-horned rhinoceros, as per 2018 census in Assam, the Kaziranga National Park has 2,413, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary has 102, Orang National Park has 101 and Manas National Park has 34 of these majestic pachyderms.

“Assam has the largest population of the species and has seen regular incidences of poaching, which for smaller reintroduced populations such as Manas is even more serious in terms of maintaining the population viability. Thus, increasing the rate of conviction in case of rhino related crimes is essential to curb poaching and therefore a system similar to RhODIS can have great applicability,” said Borthakur.

But that’s easier said than done.

“Capturing each of more than 2,500 rhinos in Assam to collect genetic samples is not feasible and demand resources that are not available both at government and non-government levels. We need modification in approach from RhODIS implemented in South Africa, in terms of sampling strategy. Non-invasive sampling, or obtaining genetic samples from an animal without physically capturing it is in practice, by way of using sources of DNA such as rhino dung, or faeces,” he said.

Once a hotbed for poaching, Assam is gradually seeking to improve its anti-poaching infrastructure at various levels.

“The Assam Forest Department is taking effective steps to curb rhino poaching and the results are seen in the last few years where the poaching number are much reduced. One of the important steps the department is taking is the implementation of RhODIS, creation of a genetic database of the rhinos which will help in tracing back the source of a seized horn. This will help in increasing the conviction rate as it will serve as definitive proof. In this direction, we have trained the staff in our national parks. In future, more forensic kits will also be made available so that the creation of the database becomes easier,” Assam Minister for Fishery, Excise, Environment and Forest, Parimal Suklabaidya told Firstpost.

The introduction of RhODIS has helped in streamlining the process of tackling the evil of rhino poaching.

“With RhODIS India’s launch in 2016, the Assam Forest Department has actively implemented the programme and a number of criminal cases from Assam have been investigated under the RhoDIS protocol. A specially designed forensics field kit has been assembled and provided to all the rhino bearing areas. The Assam Forest Department has already formed Crime Investigation Teams in all the rhino bearing areas. Members of these teams, which include staff from all the rhino bearing areas of Assam, have been trained on the usage of kits and protocols such as crime scene management and forensics investigations set under RhODIS,” said Sharma.

“Experts from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, North East Police Academy and WWF INDIA provided the training. Similar training is being planned to improve the strength of crime investigators in all the rhino bearing areas of India. Enforcement agencies such as the state police departments have been informed by the MoEFCC regarding the implementation of RhODIS in India. Overall, there is a need for improving coordination between various divisions of the forest departments, and enforcement agencies for efficient utilisation of this tool,” he said.

Role of Conservation Organisations

“The Wildlife Genetics Laboratory of Aaranyak has pioneered the development of DNA fingerprinting technology for greater one-horned rhinos and is the first laboratory in the world to successfully implement genetic census of the species. The genetic markers that would be required for the implementation of RhODIS are already standardised by this laboratory in 2012 and have published the same in international scientific journals,” the head of Wildlife Genetics Division of Aaranyak, said.

“The laboratory conducted the first-ever genetic census of rhino in the world by using dung as genetic samples to determine the number of rhinos in Gorumara National Park of West Bengal. This study set the benchmark for all further studies and standardised a set of genetic markers required for identifying individuals from any type of biological samples, including dung, horn, hair, tissue and blood etc. This technology is available in Assam itself and can be implemented at a minimal cost if multiple agencies at both government and non-government level coordinate,” he said.

The Wildlife Genetics Laboratory of Aaranyak has been providing wildlife DNA forensic investigation service to the Assam Forest Department since 2014 through approval of the state’s chief wildlife warden.

“The laboratory has already solved many rhino poaching related cases. Some examples of forensic support by Aaranyak include DNA based matching of rhino horn confiscated from suspect to a scene of the crime, differentiating the origin of poaching of confiscated rhino horn between Assam and West Bengal rhino bearing protected areas, assisting in the identification of genuine yet highly decomposed rhino horns in government treasury etc.,” Borthakur said.

However, he clearly expressed displeasure over the limited role that Aaranyak has in the whole exercise.

“The Wildlife Institute of India has been given the responsibility of implementing RhODIS in Assam, jointly with WWF India and Assam Forest Department. However, after several years of initiating this, the actual application of this technique is yet to be seen. The actual application of the technology would have been faster through the involvement of local partners in Assam, already having established credibility of implementing such a system for rhino crime mitigation,” Borthakur said.

On its part, apart from imparting training, the WWF India has provided with financial support to help establish the RhODIS laboratory at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and has been supporting field implementation of the programme and functioning of the laboratory.

Role of Government

“The whole purpose of RhODIS is to improve the conviction rate. The direct link of seized horn etc to the sources will definitely help the authority to prove the case and pitch for conviction. The Government of Assam is very serious about the conservation of this endangered species. Steps are taken to expand the protected area network for conservation. In terms of protection, Assam is one of the leaders. Various organisations like WII, WWF, Aaranyak etc. have collaborated in the process,” said Tejas Mariswamy, Divisional Forest Officer, Assam State Zoo in Guwahati.

However, both Aaranyak and WWF India differed on the intensity of involvement of the government machinery in the RhODIS programme.

“DNA technology is in use worldwide for human as well as other species to provide such evidence crucial for conviction and implementation of this technology should have been taken more seriously by the government,” the Aaranyak member said.

WWF India, however, was not critical of the intent of the government.

“The governments at the Centre and state (Assam) have shown an interest which has resulted in adopting and employing RhODIS. The three rhino bearing states have adopted the RhODIS programme and is extending full cooperation. RhODIS in India is not only targeted to check rhino poaching but has also been considered for population management. The DNA analysis using rhino dung samples is being undertaken helps in understanding the genetic health of a population. It is envisaged that the analysis will aid state governments in planning and executing management programmes. The findings can also aid in translocation of rhinos for expanding the range of the rhinos in India and also strengthen the genetic composition in the existing populations,” Sharma said.

Bottlenecks in Implementing RhODIS

“Financial resources in replicating RhODIS as implemented in South Africa could be a major constraint unless the sampling strategy is modified. Training of field level staff of Assam Forest Department in handling crime scenes and proper collection of forensic samples need to be improved before we start seeing a long term prospect through the implementation of RhODIS,” Borthakur said.

WWF India also pointed out a plethora of issues that the RhODIS implementation effort has encountered in India, particularly in Assam.

“Problem of assured and adequate funding, lack of coordination among the enforcement agencies, absence of sufficient inter-state and international cooperation for exchange of evidence and involvement in legal proceedings, lack of adequately trained and equipped crime investigation teams with sufficient manpower are some of the challenges affecting the implementation of RhODIS,” Sharma said.

Hiding no emotion about the magnitude of the task ahead, 2012-Indian Forest Service officer Mariswamy said, “The capacity building is crucial and will be quite a task.”

Roadmap for the Future

Although poaching of rhinos is not so easy today as it was earlier, one can hardly let the guard down.

“In the last few years, the effort to reduce rhino poaching has been strengthened by the government and we have started seeing positive results. However, constant monitoring in terms of the modification strategy adopted by the poachers as well as by the network associated in poaching is required,” said Aaranyak’s Borthakur.

WWF’s Sharma vouched for “improved intelligence, strategic patrolling, regular security audits to identify gaps in rhino bearing areas, better coordination with enforcement agencies, active community engagement, adequate and timely funds, implementation of the National Rhino Strategy and Action Plans on a timebound manner”.

While Cota from Annamitici stressed upon “awareness of the rhino horn trafficking crisis and education about rhinos,” DFO Mariswamy went a step further when he said, “The future for the rhino is Assam.”