It is estimated that there are only 1,600 left of the southern white rhinos in the world. This is a shocking number and it is a major concern for conservationists and the governments involved. We hope to see this number drop significantly as we work to save the species. However, the illegal trade in rhino horn and poaching continues to increase. The only way we can effectively tackle the problem is by educating ourselves.
South Africa has the world’s largest rhino population, making it the focal point for rhino conservation efforts. However, the population has declined significantly over the past four years.
The white rhino is the hardest hit species. Since 2007, poaching has increased more than nine-fold. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has classified the population as “vulnerable” and near-threatened.
The poaching crisis in Africa has spread to other countries. Zimbabwe and Namibia have seen increased numbers of poached rhinos. In both countries, the total number of rhinos killed in 2015 doubled from the previous year.
Southern white rhinos live in grasslands and savanna, and are Near Threatened. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, located in KwaZulu-Natal, has seen a significant increase in poaching since 2011. It has also had the highest rate of poaching of all of the major reserves.
In January, the International Rhino Foundation announced that the number of southern white rhinos in Kruger National Park has decreased dramatically over the past several years.
Illegal trade in rhino horn
The illegal trade in southern white rhino horn is a serious problem. In China, the demand for the horn has been fuelling the poaching of these animals.
Its value exceeds gold, cocaine and even elephant ivory. However, it is a lot less punished than these other illegal trades.
The illegal trade in horn is also fuelled by demand in Vietnam. The poaching of African rhinos has declined in recent years, although the number of incidents is still on the rise.
However, the legal trade in horn remains highly unlikely. Swaziland has recently tabled a proposal to return international rhino horn trading to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Committee of the Parties, but the proposal failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to sway the CoP.
Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China has revoked the ban on its domestic trade in rhino horn. This was criticized by international conservation groups.
Artificially assisted reproduction
Assisted reproduction is a major part of conservation efforts for the northern white rhinoceros. The animals are threatened with extinction. Using innovative reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination is one way to conserve these animals.
Currently, the species has no natural form of reproduction. However, scientists have made some progress. They have collected eggs from females many times. Some have been able to collect eleven eggs in a single collection. These eggs will be implanted into southern white rhinos, with the hope of producing a new northern white calf.
Scientists have also developed embryo stem cell lines from the rhino. These cells can be used to produce artificial gametes, such as sperm, using a procedure called induced pluripotent stem cells.
Another method is to harvest the skin tissue of an animal and transform it into induced pluripotent stem cells. This can be done in a laboratory setting. Once the resulting stem cells are mature, they can be injected into an egg.
Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra
The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary located on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is a critical piece of the puzzle to preserving the species. Located in the Way Kambas National Park, it is home to only captive reproductively viable rhinos. In addition to the rhinos, the sanctuary is also a place to educate the public about these majestic animals.
Several of these rhinos have been rescued from the wild. Their lives have been shortened by inbreeding and habitat loss. They have a shorter life span than most other animals, at only 35 to 40 years.
Although the wild population of these creatures is tiny, the captive breeding program at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary has been successful. A few months ago, a female rhino gave birth at the sanctuary. It is hoped that this will help bring more rhinos back to the wild.
One of the primary obstacles to restoring these populations is habitat loss. Deforestation has reduced the habitat for these animals, pushing them into smaller patches. This means it is difficult for them to find mates. Additionally, the low birth rate is not enough to offset natural deaths.