While poaching is reaching record highs in Africa, the same can’t be said for Nepal. It has been more than two years since a rhino was last poached in Nepal on May 2, 2014.
This is the first time Nepal has two consecutive years without poaching. And it’s a major factor in the rise of the greater one-horned rhino population to 645 animals, the highest recorded number in the country thus far.
“This exceptional success is based on a combination of high-level political will, and the active involvement of the park authorities, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, conservation partners and local communities.”
Nepal’s success has been achieved by a coordinated national response, involving new approaches and improved protection efforts in national parks and surrounding areas. Nepal is already looking to maintain this success and hopes to launch “Mission 2nd May 2017” to celebrate 3 consecutive years of zero poaching.
“The zero poaching success has allowed Nepal to launch other projects to conserve its rhinos, including the recent translocation of five rhinos from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park. Nepal has shown that countries can stop poaching and we are confident that its integrated conservation machinery will ensure that the rhino population continues to grow.”
A rhino’s bones work very hard to support it’s size and activity. And as these mammal’s evolve and grow larger, their bones have to support more and more.
A new study from the Universities of Chicago and Oregon examined the bone health of rhinos and what changes have occurred over the species existence. The researchers found bone degradation, inflammation or infection in several rhino species, including the extinct North American and living African and Asian species.
To examine the issue further, the researchers analyzed the bone health of six extinct and one living rhino species. They looked into bone structure and total body mass changed, and how that has changed over the past 50 million years. They found that bone diseases increase dramatically from 28% to 65-80% as new species evolved. In addition, bone health decreased significantly as body mass increased.
The study’s findings may help in predicting the long-term bone health of these animals, other animals and maybe even humans.
Last year, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa. This year’s poaching rate was ever so slightly lower, at 1,175 rhinos.
Those numbers are drastic increases from 2008, when less than 100 were killed, before the ban on the domestic rhino horn trade was enacted. And a few months ago, South Africa voted to lift that ban. But then the Minister of Environmental Affairs appealed the decision, putting the operation on hold.
The decision to lift the ban was made by South Africa’s High Court at the end of November, in an effort to decrease demand for rhino horns and save the rhinos from extinction. WWF Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst Dr. Colman O Criodain thinks differently:
“It is hard to see any positive conservation benefits from this court ruling, particularly at a time when rhino poaching figures are at record levels. There is no domestic demand for rhino horn in South Africa, so it is inconceivable that anyone would buy it – unless they intend to sell it abroad illegally or they are speculating that international trade will be legalized.”
While lifting the domestic trade ban would allow people to buy horns in South Africa, their purchase would still be prohibited in international trade under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Rhino Programme Manager for WWF South Africa Dr. Jo Shaw stated:
“This ruling is a blow to the government, which imposed the moratorium in 2009 in response to a sharp rise in rhino poaching and concerns that the national trade was facilitating the illegal international trade in rhino horn…Lifting the domestic moratorium can only encourage poaching and illegal activity, especially as it is likely to be misconstrued as a lifting of the current international trade ban. Efforts should rather be focused good regulation of existing private rhino horn stockpiles and increased capacity at ports of entry and exit to detect illegal wildlife products.””
Just a few weeks later, on December 8, the Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa appealed the court’s decision, as South Africa is home to 80% of the global population of rhinos. But the South African High Court dismissed the government’s application to appeal, forcing Molewa to appeal the High Court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The government of South Africa has not yet made it clear whether it will request at next year’s 17th CITES Conference in Johannesburg that the international trade in rhino horn resume.
Sadly, other regions in Africa are experiencing increases in rhino poaching, despite this year’s slight drop in South Africa’s numbers. At least 130 rhinos were poached in Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2015, which is nearly 200% more than 2014: 50 were poached in Zimbabwe, more than double the previous year, and 80 rhinos were poached in Namibia, up from 25 in 2014 and just 4 in 2013. These two countries, along with South Africa, account for almost 95% of remaining African rhinos.
“After seven years of increases, a decline in the rate of rhino poaching in South Africa is encouraging and the result of the government’s leadership and the tireless efforts of so many committed people. However, the rate remains unacceptably high – and soaring poaching levels in Namibia and Zimbabwe are cause for serious concern”.
The endangered one-horned rhinos of Nepal were down to 375 in 2005, but today they number a triumphant 675.
The rise in Rhino population occurred thanks to anti-poaching measures over the past decade. In fact, there has been no rhino poaching at all in three of the last five years, making Nepal a global role model on how to handle poachers.
“At a time when the world is facing difficulties to protect and conserve the wildlife including rhinos, Nepal has seen an extraordinary improvement in wildlife conservation. It is definitely a rare successful conservation story in the world, where park officials and the Nepalese army have managed to succeed in anti-poaching activities.”
Still, killing greater one-horned rhinos for their horns is a terrible problem. The rhino is on the red list of the IUCN, as countries in Africa continue to have trouble stopping poachers.
“Wild animals such as tigers, rhinos, elephants and leopards have been regularly killed by poachers for their body parts and skin, which fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.”
In 2002, 37 rhinos were killed by poachers, triggering deep concern about the one-horned rhino’s future in Nepal. Since then, Nepal has taken several measures to halt the poaching of these endangered animals, including harsher penalties, police and military involvement and a well-run judicial system to deal with the offense. Kunwar explains:
“The Nepal army plays a key role in anti-poaching, normally one battalion of army [soldiers] is deployed in Chitwan National Park. That’s 1,100 men and more are added according to need. There has been 24/7 patrolling going that has resulted into this success.”
Thanks to relocation efforts by conservationists and the local community, black rhinos are back in Kenya.
In the 1960s, black rhinos once numbered 70,000 but now, there are only between 4,000 to 5,000 left in the world. Ince a common sight in Kenya, the black rhino population was decimated by poachers who killed the last of them 25 years ago.
Now, a small population is being reestablished in Kenya from existing herds in Lewa, Nakuru, and Nairobi National Parks. 20 rhinos have been shipped to and released into the new Sera Community Conservancy in the territory of the Samburu people in northern Kenya, with the hope that the animals will reproduce and spread out throughout the land.
The rhinos’ new home is owned and operated by local Samburu people and the park’s community rangers will watch over the animals to ward off poachers. They will receive support from the project’s other partners, which include the governmental organization Kenya Wildlife Service and the nonprofits Northern Rangelands Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
“This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly threatened black rhino, signaling a mind shift in Kenya’s conservation efforts.”
The Sumatran rhino population has been gone from tens of thousands two centuries ago to 100 or less today.
Also known as the “hairy rhino” for its unique brown fur coat, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest and rarest species of rhino. Most recently, the species was declared extinct in Malaysia in late August.
The researchers who conducted the population study found that poaching, habitat loss and underfunded anti-poaching efforts were the main culprits of the animal’s extinction in the region. The scientists were from University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology and partners of the study included WWF, the International Rhino Foundation and IUCN.
Only two Sumatran rhino females were sighted in Malaysia in 2011 and 2014, but both were taken to be bred in captivity in the hopes of raising the species’ numbers. But sadly, the captive breeding program has proven mostly ineffective as the 45 rhinos captured since 1984 have resulted in only four babies.
“It is vital for the survival of the species that all remaining Sumatran rhinos are viewed as a metapopulation, meaning that all are managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity.”
Indonesia and its surrounding areas are now the only wild home of the Sumatran rhino. In a different research study by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, three steps that could help save the animal from extinction were established.
The scientists began by identifying five critical areas of forest in in Borneo that must be protected and then formulated the three steps around these areas:
Establishing strong environmental and anti-poaching protections in these forests;
Stopping plans to build roads that would disturb these forests;
Condensing the rhino population, currently scattered across about 11,583 square miles land, into smaller regions
If there is any hope for the species to survive, these three crucial steps must be implemented
Elephants, rhinos, hippopotamuses, gorillas and several other of the world’s largest herbivores are in danger of becoming extinct. According to a study by an international team of scientists, not only will the current trends be devastating to these animals but they will also have serious consequences for the ecosystems in which they live and other species as well.
The study, called “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores,” was published in the open-access online journal Science Advances in May. In their research, scientists studied 74 different species of herbivores that weigh an average of 220 pounds at adulthood – essentially the size of reindeer or larger. They found that 60% of species in the study are now considered threatened. UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and study co-author Blaire Van Valkenburgh says:
“For some of the largest animals, such as elephants and rhinos, it is likely a matter of a few decades before they are extinct — and no more than 80 to 100 years for the rest of the large herbivores. Even though an individual elephant or rhino might persist in the wild somewhere in Africa, they will be functionally extinct in terms of their impact on the ecosystem.”
The study explains that the two largest threats to these animals are hunting and habitat loss. Other factors include increasing human populations and competition with livestock, particularly in developing nations where livestock production tripled from 1980 to 2002.
Research showed that:
From 2002 and 2011, the number of forest elephants decreased by 62%.
From 2007 to 2013, the number of poached rhinos jumped from 13 to 1,004 per year.
From 2010 to 2012, more than 100,000 elephants or one-fifth of the world’s wild savannah elephant population were poached.
Van Valkenburgh says:
“Decades of conservation efforts are being reversed by the entrance of organized crime into the ivory and rhino horn markets. If this were to keep up, there would be very few or no savannah elephants in 10 years, and no African rhinos in 20 years.”
One major problem is that the financial incentive for hunting these animals is huge. For instance, rhino horns are more valuable by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine, reaching as high as $60,000 per pound in Asia. Because of this, the study proposes creating counter financial incentives for people living near the animals to safeguard them, so it would become more profitable to protect the animals than to poach them. The study also stresses the need for social marketing and education campaigns to drive down demand for animal products as food and consumer goods.
The scientists say:
“Large herbivores, and their associated ecological functions and services, have already largely been lost from much of the developed world. Now is the time to act boldly, because without radical changes in these trends, the extinctions that eliminated most of the world’s largest herbivores 10,000 to 50,000 years ago will only have been postponed for these last few remaining giants.”
The study also notes that the Pleistocene Epoch, which ended around 11,700 years ago, saw more than 40 species of herbivores in which adults weighed 2,200 pounds or more, but today there are only eight. The extinction of these “mega-herbivores” has drastically influenced our planet’s ecosystems. For example, large herbivores are the primary food source for predators and scavengers and the way they walk over and consume plants affects how vegetation grows. In addition, they are relied on for food on by humans, especially in developing nations, with an estimated 1 billion people depending on wild meat to survive.
The conclusion to the study states:
“Without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”