Every May 1 is Save the Rhino Day, aka Rhino Mayday. Did you know that there are fewer than 30,000 rhinoceroses left on Earth? That’s including every species of rhino combined. Rhinos are one of the most threatened animals on the planet, constantly under the shadow of ruthless poachers and habitat loss. Two of the five rhino species number less than 100 individuals. Read on to learn more about rhinos and why saving their lives is so important.
Pictured: White rhinoceros
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RHINOCEROS SPECIES AND POPULATIONS
There are five distinct species that make up the family Rhinocerotidae, with various subspecies within each. Today, the population of every rhino species is threatened or endangered to some degree. Combining all five species, there are still fewer than 30,000 living rhinos on Earth.
The white rhino has made a nice recovery after once teetering on the brink of extinction with only about 50 individuals left on Earth. Though their numbers are much higher today, they are still considered near threatened.
Black rhinos have been listed as critically endangered since 1996. Although their numbers are slowly but steadily recovering, rhino poaching has exploded in recent years, pushing back hard against conservation efforts.
Pictured: Black rhinoceros
Like the white rhino, the Indian rhino was brought back from the very brink of extinction thanks to continuing conservation efforts. However, with fewer than 3,500 individuals in existence, the Indian rhino’s recovery has not been as robust as the white rhino’s. With the threats of poaching and habitat destruction ongoing, the Indian rhino remains a vulnerable species.
As recently as 1995, there were as many as 300 Sumatran rhinos on Earth. That’s not a great number by any means, but in the years since, the number has dipped below 100. Conservationists hope for their efforts to recover the population to 2,000 to 2,500 individuals over the next century.
The Sumatran rhino was once the most endangered species of rhino, but the Javan rhino has overtaken it in recent years. There are believed to be only 35 to 45 Javan rhinos left in existence. The entire population lives in Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java, Indonesia.
Pictured: Indian rhinoceros
RHINO POACHING IS ON THE RISE
Sadly, rhino poaching isn’t on the decline. In fact, it’s skyrocketing. Last year saw record numbers of poached rhinos. Poachers killed 1,004 protected rhinos in South Africa in 2013. That’s compared to 668 in 2012. That number also represents a 4,463 percent increase in rhino poaching over the past decade.
RHINO POACHING FOR TRADITIONAL EASTERN MEDICINE
The booming market for rhino horns isn’t driven solely by profit, but also by medicine. In traditional medicine, rhino horns are believed throughout Asia (particularly in Vietnam) to hold medicinal properties. The horns are widely thought to be an aphrodisiac, a cure for convulsions and even a treatment for hangovers. Of course, there is no scientific evidence to support such beliefs.
WESTERN BLACK RHINOCEROS DECLARED EXTINCT
In late 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature officially declared that Diceros bicornis longipes, the western black rhinoceros, had gone extinct. The subspecies thrived until the 20th century, when it fell victim to poaching and a general lack of conservation efforts.
A RHINO-HUNTING PERMIT WAS AUCTIONED TO RAISE FUNDS TO SAVE RHINOS
In a bizarre story from January 2014, the Dallas Safari Club, a hunting club in Texas, auctioned off a license to hunt black rhinos in Namibia. The permit fetched $350,000, all of which was donated to Namibia for “anti-poaching patrols, habitat protection, research and other measures crucial for protecting populations of endangered black rhinos.” Unsurprisingly, the auction inspired outrage from conservationist circles, but the hunting club defended its actions.
"Science shows that selective hunting helps rhino populations grow," the club said in a statement released after the auction.
Preventing poaching is the ultimate goal to stop rhinos from becoming extinct. Poaching prevention measures involve paramilitary training techniques, night vision helicopter surveillance, electronic tracking equipment and intelligence gathering. Private reserve owners, conservationists and the public are working together to sign petitions and accept donations that help to cover the millions of dollars it takes to provide rhinos with protection against poachers.
Pictured: Sumatran rhinoceros
PROVIDING RHINOS WITH PROTECTED CONSERVATION AREAS
Wild rhinos are captured humanely and brought to protected sanctuaries. These conservation areas are identical to the rhinos’ natural habitats of deserts, tropical moist forests, tropical grasslands, subtropical grasslands, savannas and shrublands. Plants are planted through the sanctuaries to provide rhinos with nutrition and vitamins. This allows the rhinos to use their natural foraging abilities. Conservation areas provide a places for rhinos to live safely, away from poachers.
Pictured: Javan rhinoceros
Next: Wildlife Crimes on the Rise
DEHORNING TO WARD OFF POACHERS
While a rhino’s horn is useful to its owner, dehorning rhinos has been an effective procedure for protecting the rhinos from poachers. The dehorning operation is performed in a safe and humane manner by licensed veterinarians and physicians. Rhino horns grow back at a rapid pace; the dehorning procedure is repeated every 12 to 24 months. Unfortunately, dehorning is not always effective. Some poachers are willing to kill a rhino for only the stub of its horn.