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Ghosts of our Future
Nan Schaffer, DVM, is one of the
leading authorities on rhinoceros
reproductive physiology, and the founder of SOS Rhino. Based in Chicago, she has
worked with rhinos worldwide for more than 18 years. She is quiet and unassuming, so
that people are often surprized to discover that she works with rhinos for a living. Her
staff reports that an unofficial rhino poll has named her the rhinos' favorite veterinarian.
Because of her willingness to fly at a moment's notice when contacted for help by zoos,
American Airlines has designated Dr Schaffer as its favorite frequent flyer. She is the person
seen in commercials running with her black veterinarian's bag to catch a plane.
Fellow veterinarians and researchers consider her the person "most likely to have a baby
rhino named after them". For our first issue of Endangered Species magazine, we are
pleased to present a recent interview with Dr Schaffer.
||How did you get started with
a question my parents always
asked me. When I graduated from
Texas A&M Vet school, I specialized
in fertility evaluation of male animals.
The zoos I subsequently worked for
were interested in learning about the
fertility of their animals, which led me
to my first rhino.
long have you been
working with rhinos?
first job was at the Bronx Zoo in
1981 with a post-doctoral fellowship
in reproduction. One of my projects
was to collect urine from a female
Indian rhino to see if she was cycling.
The pair at the zoo was not breeding.
I then went to the Mid west, where I
worked with three zoos in reproductive
research - Lincoln Park Zoo in
Chicago, Brookfield (Illinois Zoo),
and Milwaukee County Zoo.
Milwaukee County Zoo was the one
where I focused my work on rhinos.
Actually, one particular rhino: Rudy.
rhinos have personalities?
all display what appears to be
fear, anger, frustration, patience, impatience,
curiosity, and happiness to
varying degrees which make up all
their different personalities. Happiness
is a hard one since there is no specific
action for happiness. I'd say happiness
for a rhino is falling down in ecstasy
from a good scratch on their stomach
or back, enjoying fruit or vegetable
treats, or blissfully wallowing in mud.
are the other animals
you have worked with?
reproductive work, I've worked
with orangutans, camels, gorillas, wanderoos
[lion-tailed macaques], and
Indian lions. As a clinical vet, I've
dealt with medical problems of Gila
monsters, Indian lions, proboscis
monkeys, seals, dolphins, buffalo,
cranes, bears ... it runs the gamut.
are the species of rhinos
different from each
rhinos are savannah (plains)
animals, seeming wary, flight-prone,
nervous. The Asian rhinos are grassland
(marsh) animals and are slower,
calmer, and shy, but Sumatran rhinos
have the most personality. It may be
because the ones I've met are not used
to captivity they still have an
untamed" curiosity. The Sumatrans
are more vocal, meaning they make
more sounds, than the other species.
They're the smallest, have hairier bodies,
bulbous noses and small horns.
They're made up of so many incongruous
parts, it gives meaning to the
statement that they're so ugly, they're
was different about
was a very big boy and I was able
to work with him without any kind of
restraint. Although he could squash
me, he always moved carefully. He
never threatened me by throwing his
head, like a horse. One time he did
almost step on me. If you can picture
a 3000 pound (1400 kg) rhino stepping
on your foot you can imagine
how that can crush it. Well, he ended
tip just resting his foot on mine. He
wouldn't move his foot, I couldn't
move mine, and I couldn't go anywhere
until he let me go. I couldn't
tell if he got a kick out of it or if it
was just a friendly reminder about
who was really in charge. The saddest
day was when he had to be euthanized
because of a debilita ting illness. I
came into his exhibit area to spend
some time with him and he got up
slowly because he was feeling so sick.
He came over to me and proceeded to
nudge me around his pen until I was
out the door. It was as if he was saying,
Go on now, there are other rhinos
that need attention". Rudy started
me on the road to working with rhinos.
He was one of a kind.
was your most "interesting"
time with a rhino?
I was at the Bronx I had the
chance to watch the courtship of a
pair of Indian rhinos. The male would
chase the female and throw her, this
two-ton animal, into the air' That was
all I had to go by when I was called in
by the Milwaukee County Zoo to
work on the reproductive problems of
Rudy, their male Indian rhino. I
remember sticking my head into his
cage. Here was the biggest rhino I had
ever seen, and I was supposed to work
out his reproductive problem?
is required of a
researcher to work with rhinos?
patience, patience; an interest
in the animal, a willingness to battle
the odds; a perseverance to work
around the politics; and certainly an
ability to savor the small victories.
did you start SOS
started it as a means of stimulating
awareness of and funding for research.
I thought more work needed to be
done in certain research areas that
were more immediate and necessary to
maintain and manage the animals we
is necessary to save
be in the mind-set that our natural
resources are vital to the world's existence.
To make people realize that
nature - the wild, open spaces - is as
valuable to us as oil. Will we ever get
to the point of calling out the military
to protect our wild spaces and animals
as we do to protect our oil interests',
you believe a legal trade
can save the animals?
animals in the world have as great
an economic importance as the "good
as gold" natural resource of the rhino.
This should have been the easiest animal
in the world to save. It's one of
the top five animals that tourists want
to see when they go to Africa. The
black market is entrenched, wellfinanced,
wellsupported, and has been
obviously unaffected by legalities. A
wellorganized and well-financed legal
source of rhino horn can undercut the
competition from the black market
and drive down the price. Right now a
horn is worth thousands of dollars on
the Asian market. Now, the black
market gets all the money. A legal
trade could monitor the traffic, protect
its own "rhino investment", and
rhinos would not have to be killed.
Others believe that a legal trade would
only help the black market survive by
creating an easily accessible trade
route. The pros and cons are an ongoing
debate in the international community.
can people do to help
can adopt a rhino or a rhino
researcher. You can boycott Chinese
and Taiwanese goods, as those markets
have the greatest traffic in illegal horn.
Another problem area not as well
known is the one in the United States,
on both East and West Coasts. Write
Congress, write the Senate, write the
President. We need more severe penalties
for those trafficking in this illegal
trade. We need the laws to be
enforced, in the US and in China. My
Chinese friends say that the demand
for rhino products "is a cultural
thing". My response: "So was slavery".
What are they going to do for their
aches and pains and imagined sexual
prowess when all the rhinos have
you believe in a rhino
Jurassic Park for the future?
we can freeze the semen, freeze
the embryos, but that's not the only
answer. No pun intended, but putting
all our eggs in one basket never works
and is a major gamble with endangered
species. We need to save their
habitat, or what wild, genetically
diverse rhinos will be left to be
impregnated with this frozen, genetic
material? Are we going to just try to
build a rhino we can keep in a zoo, or
will we bring them back into a world
in which they can survive?
are you so dedicated to
your work for rhinos?
of the great tragedies of the twenty-
first century will be humanity's
homogeneity. Everywhere, everything
will be the same. That which we could
not tame or imitate will be gone. No
matter how hard we try, we cannot
build" nature. We can build another
bridge, paint another picture, but we
cannot make another rhino. Look into
a really wild animal's eyes. When the
wild things have gone, we will lose our
place, our way; for whose eyes will we
look into to find our humility, our
do you see the rhinos
10, 25, 50 years from now?
big, natural, nature preserves, protected
by an international army, then
everything in the whole nature preserve
will be protected. However, in order to
achieve this, it would mean the world
would have to overcome some huge
obstacles; that a lot of people would
finally agree to act together, that the
Asian and Yemeni markets would finally
realize the value of what they have
destroy ed, and the black market middle
men and higher-ups are arrested for
their stockpiles of rhino horn. I want
our children's children to have the
experience of under standing and
knowing a rhino. That they will get to
see it, hear it, and maybe if they're
lucky enough, to touch it and have it
change their lives as it did mine.
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