If you have ever fed Monica (the Indian, aka, Greater One-Horned Rhino) while visiting Tanganyika, you may know that we support the International Rhino Foundation. One of the many amazing conservation organizations we partner with, IRF works to protect, monitor, and research wild rhino populations while also supporting local communities. They currently work in Zimbabwe, India, Sumatra, Java, South Africa, and Vietnam, and we make annual donations to support their conservation projects.
THE PRECIPITOUS DECLINE OF RHINOS
At the start of the 20th century, half a million (~500,000) wild rhinos roamed across Africa and Asia; now, there are a mere ~28,000 (94% decrease) across a fraction of their historic range. The estimates of the rhino species, as of 2021, are as follows:
– White: 17,000-19,000
– Black: 5300-5700
– GOH (Indian): > 3700
– Javan: 75
– Sumatran: < 80
Three out of the five species (black, Javan, and Sumatran) are critically endangered, meaning the risk of extinction is highly possible in our lifetime. Javan rhinos are found only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, although the population trend is currently stable. Northern white rhinos, one of the two white rhino subspecies, are functionally extinct in the wild, barring the existence of undiscovered or misclassified male white rhinos.
Primary reasons for the decline of wild rhino populations
- Poaching and consumer demand for rhino horns. As the middle classes of China and Vietnam grow more affluent, and thus more able to afford the exorbitant price of a rhino horn, they increase demand in the black market where horns are illegally traded. It is believed that rhino horns can be used in traditional medicine to cure certain ailments, such as fever and cancer, although there is no pharmaceutical evidence to support this. Some consumers will also keep rhino horns as a symbol of wealth or status.
- Habitat loss and fragmentation. Logging and agriculture practices destroy and degrade forests that rhinos inhabit. Loss of habitat shrinks livable spaces and increases the likelihood of run-ins with humans, often with fatal consequences. Once populations become fragmented, or more distanced from each other, it is difficult for breeding to ensue. These isolated populations can also be prone to higher interspecific competition and increased disease susceptibility.
- Lack of political will. In the last decade, policy bodies and government officials have become better at cracking down on corruption and illegal trading, especially in India and Nepal. However, this is still an issue; the governments of both range and consumer countries need to be better at enforcing laws and regulations and upholding international treaties and promises if rhinos are to survive.
All hope is not lost! Organizations like IRF exist to ensure the survival and propagation of all rhino species, and good things are already happening:
- GOH rhinos are on the rebound in India and Nepal, surpassing 3700 individuals! This is a great success story, as there were only ~200 individuals at the turn of the 20th century. Strict policy enforcement by government agencies has resulted in poaching declines, and is further proof that protection is a critical factor in successful conservation.
- The black rhino population is growing across Africa, increasing 16-17% over the last decade.
- Advancements in ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) show promise for rhino breeding.
Our own Monica is the first successful GOH rhino born from AI (artificial insemination)!
She is named for Dr. Monica Stoops, a reproductive physiologist whose research, dedication, and expertise made the procedure possible.
When Monica (the rhino) was born at the Buffalo Zoo in 2014, her dad had been dead for 10 years!
How You Can Help
- Visit the park! We do not receive any federal funding at Tanganyika, and are 100% reliant on guest patronage. A percentage of your contributions goes directly to the conservation organizations we support, including IRF. You can also come to the park to learn more about our Greater One-Horned Rhinos!
- Support IRF and other rhino conservation organizations. In addition to IRF, you could also check out the World Wildlife Fund, Save the Rhino, Yayasan Badak Indonesia, or the African Wildlife Foundation. Just be sure to do your research before donating anywhere!
- Use certified sustainable palm oil and forest products. Help protect Sumatran and Javan Rhino habitats by purchasing sustainable palm oil and FSC-certified forest products, such as wood and paper. The FSC’s (Forest Stewardship Council) stated mission is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.” They help prevent illegal logging and forest conversion, both of which negatively impact wild rhino populations.
- Spread the word! Most people have heard at least a peripheral story about the poaching crisis of African rhinos – rightly so – but they may not even be aware that Javan and Sumatran rhinos exist. The population numbers of these Asian rhino species are orders of magnitude fewer than the most threatened African rhinos, and it is important that we not forget about the threats facing these species.
“We must act today, to ensure these marvelous creatures can thrive for future generations. Let’s continue to build on our successes of greater one-horned, black, and Javan rhinos and reverse the declines for Sumatran and white rhinos, working together so rhinos can continue to thrive on Earth.” – Nina Fascione, Executive Director of IR
About the Author: Bijou, Intern at TWP, is a Colorado native and wildlife enthusiast! With a background in biology and chemistry, she is always willing to converse about the intricacies of science and nature. She spends her free time reading, playing piano, stargazing, watching movies, and generally being easily excited. Her hope is to eventually live abroad possibly in New Zealand or Antarctica, although her family better be coming with; they are very close and she would miss them immensely!