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In 2012, we saw things in rhino conservation we've never seen before. Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing them with you. One at a time.
Today, despite unspeakable losses to poaching, there are more black rhinos in Zimbabwe's Lowveld today than ever before. (But we can't let our guard down if we hope to save this critically endangered species!)
The International Rhino Foundation works closely with Zimbabwe's Lowveld Rhino Trust to protect threatened rhinos in the Bubye Valley and Save Valley Conservancies. Combined, the Lowveld conservancies cover more than 1.6 million acres and are home to 370 black rhinos - nearly 90% of the national population. In fact, these represent the only viable black rhino populations in the country.
In 2012, the Lowveld Rhino Trust moved 15 more black rhinos from areas of high poaching pressure to more secure habitats, and monitoring units tallied 38 births, including the 100th black rhino birth in the Bubye Valley Conservancy since protection efforts began there. With rhino poaching in South Africa at an all-time high, this milestone is all that more significant. Record rhino births are complemented by the successful rescue of rhino calves that have been orphaned by poachers.
Take the case of Trouble, a male black rhino calf (right) in the Save Valley Conservancy who has not had an easy start in life. In October 2011, Trouble and his mother, Double, were victims of a poaching attack in which both sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Following treatment, both rhinos made strong recoveries, but tragedy struck this February when Double was again caught in the poacher's cross-hairs - this time fatally - leaving Trouble an orphan at less than two years of age. Although he was no longer nursing from his mother, he would have remained in her company for protection at least for several more months. Rather than capture Trouble, he was left in the wild and is being closely monitored. He is now two-and-a-half years old and, living in the same area he and his mother previously roamed together, which is what he would have done had she survived.
Then there's Bebrave and Long Playing, two other rhino orphans. Bebrave's mother and older sister were killed by poachers in August 2011 when he was about a year old. Long Playing, a female calf, was barely seven months old when her mother was killed earlier this year. Both orphaned rhinos were captured for hand-rearing. Bebrave was orphaned a full six months earlier than Long Playing, so he was already well settled in his ranch home with a huge tractor tire and an orphan eland (see photo right) for company when she arrived.
Bebrave quickly abandoned both the tire and eland when the gate to Long Playing's pen was opened. At half Bebrave's size, Long Playing was somewhat less enthusiastic about having a new playmate and immediately chased him from her pen (see their size difference in the photo at right). However, the two quickly became pals and have been inseparable ever since.
The Body Shop and TRAFFIC have been busy telling the story of Bebrave and Long Playing to help raise awareness in Vietnam concerning rhino poaching. Vietnam is currently the single largest consumer of rhino horn, grinding it to treat fevers, prevent hangovers and giving it as a high value gift. The Body Shop has printed images of Bebrave and Long Playing on their shopping bags and postcards with the question "Where's my Mama?", and the harsh realities of how poaching threatens this critically endangered species. Many people who use rhino horn are not aware of the slaughter or the cruelty at the root of this illegal trade - or even that horn comes from a living animal.
Efforts to build, monitor and protect Zimbabwe's rhino populations began in earnest at the turn of the century, have withstood the intense period of poaching pressure from 2008-2009, and are once again threatened by an upsurge of killings to obtain precious rhino horn. The Lowveld Rhino Trust can be very proud of its record as 2012 comes to a close. Poaching losses are only a quarter of what they were in 2008 - the worst year on record for the conservancies. As a result, there are more rhinos alive in this region today than ever before.
Monitoring units are deployed in the field 365 days a year and all black rhinos in the area are identified on an individual basis. The Lowveld Rhino Trust also works with government agencies and international colleagues to manage rhino populations outside conservancy lands and combat poaching syndicates throughout the region.
The first black rhinos were introduced to the Bubye Valley Conservancy in 2002. A decade later we celebrate the 100th birth.Over the last three years, this population has grown at an annual rate of nearly 10% and, because extensive black rhino habitat remains in Bubye Valley, we estimate that it will take only five years for the next 100 calves to be born.
That is, if we can continue to keep these rhinos safe from poaching. For that, we need your help.
And the first rhino born in Manas National Park in this Century!
(But definitely not the last)...
The Indian or greater one-horned rhino was wiped out in Manas National Park in the late 1990s, but is making a comeback. Rhinos from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park are being reintroduced to Manas as part of the effort known as Indian Rhino Vision 2020. Eighteen rhinos have been reintroduced so far.
We've fallen in love with this baby, which was born several months after its mother arrived (just look at those ears!). The cow was already pregnant when she was moved, but our field team has noted breeding behavior between some of the other reintroduced rhinos, so future births already seem to be in the works. India's state of Assam is now home to about 2,500 rhinos, with a goal to reach 3,000 by the year 2020. More rhinos will be moved to Manas in 2013, and plans are underway to expand the program to the Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary in the years ahead.
Photo: Sande D.,WWF-India
Help Indian Rhinos with a Holiday Gift
You can help the International Rhino Foundation reach our 3,000 rhino goal by 2020.
It's a big job. And we're taking it one rhino at a time.
As of today. Since January 1st.
And we expect it will get worse before the end of the year.
We try to balance the good news with the bad news. We celebrate our victories and try to remain optimistic when setbacks occur. Last year, our IRF family responded generously as we launched Operation Stop Poaching Now. At this time last year, South Africa was losing one rhino every 18 hours. We never imagined it would be one rhino lost every 13.4 hours today.
Poaching rates in South Africa continue to skyrocket because of increasing demand for rhino horn in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Rhino horn is used to reduce fever and to treat other ailments in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Widespread rumors in Vietnam that rhino horn can cure cancer and eradicate hangovers has led to an emerging market that has the potential to erase 30 years of conservation success in the blink of an eye. Ironically, Vietnam's own Javan rhino became extinct in 2010, with the last known animal shot and its horn hacked off.
Rhino poaching is driven by well-organized and well-equipped crime syndicates. It is not a crime of poverty. Buying and selling rhino horn is illegal in China and Vietnam, but enforcement is lax and prosecutions for smuggling horns into the country are few and far between. Although 257 poachers have been arrested in South Africa to-date this year, conviction rates are low and higher-ranking beneficiaries remain untouched.
The good news is that total black rhino numbers (representing 9 countries) are between 4,800 and 4,900 individuals, up from only 4,240 in 2007 and essentially stable despite the recent rise in poaching. White rhino populations also are up from their 2007 levels as well, having increased from about 17,500 to somewhere between 19,000 and 20,160 today. That their populations appear to be withstanding the serious rise in poaching over the last few years is encouraging, indicating that birth rates are exceeding mortality. However, the rapid escalation in poaching is unsustainable, and unless it can be halted, African rhino numbers could once again start to decline.
Two Belgian Malinois will be trained to sniff out snares, track poachers and find orphans. Photo courtesy Green Dogs Conservation.
Through our partner the Endangered Wildlife Trust, we purchased two 'sniffer dogs' like Falco at right and have enough funds to pay their handlers for 1 year. Once they are fully trained, the dogs will be used both in South Africa and in Zimbabwe.
We'd like to purchase a second pair of dogs to detect rhino horn in customs in South African airports. Please consider helping us with this - detection at the source is part of stopping illegal trade!
The IRF partnered with security experts in South Africa to provide16 rangers with advanced training in hand-to-hand combat, firearms safety, investigative techniques, intelligence gathering, evidence collection, communications, rhino identification and monitoring. We provided scene-of-crime kits containing basic investigation equipment such as a camera, metal detector, GPS, finger-printing materials, and sealable evidence bags. These key items aid rhino protection and crime scene investigations so that sound evidence against poaching suspects can be generated and used in court. We have just provided funding for a second round of training to take place in other critical rhino areas in South Africa.
In Zimbabwe,more than 50 staff in Save and Bubye Valley Conservancies took part in standardized, phased training courses starting with basic tracking and anti-poaching. A Quick Reaction Team is being recruited from rangers who passed the advanced course.
Next year, we will begin working with partners in Asia to spread the word that Using Rhino Horn is Not Cool. Please consider helping us reach the end-users in Asia by donating to Operation Stop Poaching Now today.
To make this work, we have to tackle the poaching crisis from every angle - source, end user and governments. This coming year, IRF will continue its work with the US State Department on wildlife crime as well as working through international conventions such as the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.
Fewer than 50 remain.
They seem to survive by hiding in plain sight.
But, apparently, they're not camera shy!)
This past year, four Rhino Protection Units - that's 16 skilled rhino trackers - hiked nearly 1,500 miles through the forests of Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park, but didn't once lay eyes on a single Javan rhino. However, during the same year, 35 of these elusive creatures were "captured" by park authorities on videotape.
We invite you to sit back and view nearly the entire population of the world's most endangered large mammal right here. Just click on the photo below.
IRF works closely with the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI) and Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry to protect both Javan and Sumatran rhinos and other species that share their ecosystems. Thanks to this teamwork, no Javan rhinos have been lost to poaching in Ujung Kulon in the last 15 years.
And that's critically important, becauseTHIS IS THEIR FINAL STRONGHOLD.
If you would like to help IRF continue to protect the world's rarest rhinos and to make their habitat more rhino-friendly, please consider giving a special gift to wildlife this holiday season. Help the Rhino Protection Units continue their excellent work and safeguard the future for the Javan rhino.
The first rhino born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.
(We think he's pretty special.)
In the wee hours of the morning on June 23rd, we welcomed Andatu into the world - an auspicious beginning to the International Year of the Rhino!
Andatu's story truly is an international 'girl-meets-boy' tale. Andalas, his father, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 and brought to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in 2007. Mom Ratu wandered out of the rain forest in 2005 and was brought to the Sanctuary to keep her from harm. After many introductions and two pregnancy losses, the pair finally produced a bouncing baby boy, Andatu.
IRF has been waiting for this moment since we planned and constructed the 250-acre (100 ha) Sanctuary in 1998. very successful birth helps ensure the survival of this critically endangered species, which runs the risk of extinction by the end of this century.
Regular updates on your adopted rhino throughout the year
All adoption funds will be used to pay for care and feeding of your rhino, including state-of-the-art veterinary care.
Special Holiday Offer!
Adopt Andatu at the $210 level and receive a photo book documenting his first 6 months, including his whopping growth from 60 lbs (27 kg) in June to nearly 400 lbs (180 kg) today!
All US adoption requests must be received by December 19th, 2012 to ensure the adoption package reaches its recipient in time for the holidays. For international adoptions, if you are worried about shipping time, please let us know. Adoptions received from December 20th and before 11 am EST December 24th will be sent electronically to ensure timely delivery.