Friday, August 5, 2011

International Rhino Foundation: Protecting the Rhinos of the world

International Rhino Foundation logo
The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) was founded over 20 years ago to combat the threats of poaching to the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis.  Their work with the Black Rhino was so successful (poaching was nearly eliminated) that they soon decided to expand their activities towards the protection of all five species of rhinoceros.  The International Rhino Foundation is and always has been run almost entirely by volunteer labor, made up of field biologists, zoo staff, and conservation biologists from around the world, with a handful of paid staff to deal with the daily requirements of the organization.  Their partners include the American Association of Zoo Keepers, a large number of zoos (e.g. the Albuquerque Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Basel Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Marwell Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Columbus Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Denver Zoo, Erie Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, White Oak Conservation Center, Fort Worth Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Taronga Zoo, Gladys Porter Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Great Plains Zoo, etc. etc.), and a mix of business interests, foundations and conservation organizations (e.g. Blue Rhino, Ecko Unlimited, Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation,  IUCN Species Survival Commission, Yayasan Badak Indonesia, etc. etc.), all of which are working together to enact a coherent plan for protecting the rhinos of the world.

Sumatran Rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
This hairy rhino (the closest living relative to the extinct Woolly Rhino) is now only found in Indonesia and Malaysia (and possibly Myanmar) and numbers only ~200 animals worldwide, scattered through four fragmented populations.  It only exists in areas with intensive management and active anti-poaching teams and their numbers are still dropping rapidly.  The International Rhino Foundation supports 13 anti-poaching teams for two of those populations, which has essentially stopped all poaching in those parks.  While on patrol, the teams are also collecting data on the native animals that they are protecting, providing valuable research on these and other native endangered species.
Rare footage of Javan Rhinos
Javan Rhinoceros Rhinoceros sondaicus
This is the rarest of all the rhino species, with only 27-44 animals remaining and can currently only be found in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park.  The International Rhino Foundation funds three anti-poaching teams, and since they have been in place (1998) there has not been a single rhino lost to poaching in the park.
Charging Indian Rhino protecting her calf- what amazing speed for such a large animal!
Greater One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis
Although this rhino species numbered only ~200 individuals in the early 20th century, extensive protection efforts have brought their numbers up to over 2,800 individuals today in India and Nepal.  The International Rhino Foundation is currently working to continue increasing the numbers of this rhino and to transplant individuals to reintroduce new populations of this amazing rhinoceros.
White Rhino footage
White Rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum
The White Rhino (not named because it is white, but from the Africaans word "weit", which translates as "wide" in English, because they have a wide mouth unlike the Black Rhino which has a pointed mouth.  English folk misunderstood what they were called and the name stuck.) is the most abundant of the rhino species, although one of the two subspecies of White Rhino, the Northern White Rhino, also has the lowest numbers left of any rhino: the Northern White Rhinoceros is extinct in the wild (the last ones were poached in the late 2000's) and there are only 7 animals left alive in the world.  1 pair is at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, a single animal (since its mate recently died) is at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, and 4 were brought from the Dvůr Králové Zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009 to live in a semi-wild state (but under continual surveillance and protection inside large enclosures to prevent poaching) in the hope of increasing their breeding levels.  Numbers of the Southern Black Rhinoceros were down to only ~200 animals at the beginning of the 20th century, but due to protections they now number ~20,000 animals- more individuals than all of the other rhino species combined.
Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis
Black Rhinos are not the rarest of the rhino species, but are the species to have undergone the largest decline in population.  Between 1970 and 1992 they lost 96% of their population- Using thThomas Knight Comparative Population Decimation Scale of Doom© we can see that losing 96% of the population is the equivalent of having all humans die from the continents of North & South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and Europe, as well as all of the people throughout all of Asia except for those in the countries of Indonesia & Malaysia.  Fortunately the International Rhino Foundation brought the levels of poaching down dramatically, to the point where the population rebounded from a low of 2,300 animals to the more than 4,200 animals that are alive today.

The International Rhino Foundation has done a lot of crucial work over the years to protect rhino populations, providing protection for rhinos, educating locals about their importance, funding research, coordinating conservation strategies, and so much more and they continue to be involved in amazing conservation efforts.  Unfortunately, there has been a massive increase in poaching the past few years as Asian crime syndicates have gotten heavily involved in the financially lucrative rhino horn poaching and smuggling trade.  They are well financed and have provided helicopters, advanced weaponry, and other advanced technology to well-trained teams of professionals to enter the protected areas, locate the rhinos and kill them, evade or kill any rangers, and leave quickly.  Rhino horn smuggling has become so lucrative that protected, secure museums in Europe are starting to report thefts of their rhino horns from their collections.  Now more than ever the rhino needs help if it is going to survive.  The International Rhino Foundation could use any help that you can offer to help them save these magnificent animals, before the Asian black market wipes them all out for aphrodisiacs and as a traditional medicine to reduce fever.  If you want to help there are number of ways, including donations.  Please consider supporting the IRF in any way that you can- they have an uphill battle against the poachers (if European museums with high levels of security inside major cities can't protect their rhino horns, imagine how hard it is to protect animals in third world countries that are roaming through the wilderness) but with your help they can make a difference.

Black Rhinos at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya © Thomas Knight zookeeper
I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with rhinos in zoos as well as seeing the Black Rhinos to the left in their natural habitat in Kenya.  Consider helping the International Rhino Foundation to ensure that experiences like that are around for generations to come.

Want to see photos or videos of White Rhinos?
Want to see photos or videos of Black Rhinos?
Want to see photos or videos of Javan Rhinos?
Want to see photos or videos of Sumatran Rhinos?

Want to learn more about Rhinos?  Check out the following links/books:

Handbook of the Mammals of the World volume 1
The Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volume 2 Hoofed Mammals.  This volume will be released in August, and you can rest assured that it will be the top reference book for hoofed mammals as a whole in our lifetime.  The previous volumes on mammals and birds are absolutely amazing.  Pricey but well worth the cost.
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    1. Hi Thomas! I'm a zookeeper and aspiring writer, and I found your blog while searching for other zookeeper blogs. I'm very exciting to explore your site!

    2. I'm looking forward to reading your blog as well, especially about the Alaska Zoo- my home town! There's not nearly enough of us zoo keepers on the internet.

    3. Wow, really? What a small world! Do you know any of the folks who work there now?

    4. You should be recognized by some wildlife community to support your blog. Your post are very good and for a good cause.

    5. @LisaAnn Sadly, I don't know anyone from there now.

      @Reika Thanks, glad you liked it!

    6. I'm just so fascinated by how informative your posts about the rhinos. I do hope this project will be a success and the black rhinos will survive.

    7. Taking care of our endangered species is a great privilege. If I have the chance I would take part of this project free of labor :) Thanks for this wonderful post. I hope the foundation will benefit for this cause.

    8. Hi Thomas,

      I am impressed with your blog for raising awareness to the people. I honestly didn't know most of the foundation you mentioned, so I'm really glad that there are a lot of them even in this very modern times.

    9. Yeah, I didn't even know that there are actually black rhinos left in the wild. This is such a humble deed for you and your foundation. More power to you guys!

    10. Reading your blog is like recalling my Zoology days in college. You are doing a noble job for this kind of campaign. It takes a very dedicated man to do this. Two thumbs up for you.

    11. Everyone of us can start the same cause even at our backyards or garden. It's not just the rhinos that needs to be taken care of. Great project you have here, God bless you.

    12. Taking care of our wild life is really very humbling. I know that you guys have that powerful passion and love for these animals. I salute your concern and effort to these Rhinos. More power to you.

    13. Great to know that there is an organization who cares for animals like the rhinos. I think we need more people like you, it's not just the rhinos there are still more animals that want and need to be cared for.

    14. nice job you do. how is your foundation working?

    15. It's not my foundation, I am just a big fan of the amazing work that they do!

    16. Thanks so much for sharing some review with regards to this organization. Glad to have read some idea on this one.

    17. Its really nice to see that there's a foundation to keep those rhinos from being extinct. I never had a chance to see a real one, with my own eyes.

    18. I adore foundations or movements which have this certain goal of preserving those animals who are fast in getting extinct. It's admirable how they take care of these animals and it's very inspirational. :)

    19. Your Blog is very good, I like it! Thank you for your sharing!

    20. It's a shame that rhinos were hunted down to the edge of extincion, they are so wonderful creatures

    21. really helpful blog doing a great bit of work in saving one of the endangered species among the animals.

    22. Excellent information. This site definitely explains essential concepts to its readers. Thanks for continuing to write such wonderful articles.

    23. "A perfect info source. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic"