|By Alex Cukan
United Press International
From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 4/25/2003 12:41 PM
The rhinoceros has lived on Earth for more than 50 million years but whether
it survives even 50 more is a questionable proposition.
"There are not more than 14,000 rhinos (left) in the wild," Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, told UPI's Animal Tales. "It's
the most endangered large mammal."
At one time flourishing as more than 100 species, the rhino today is represented
by five, and all five -- the White, Black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan -- are
The rhino is coveted -- and killed -- for its horn, which is thought in some
people, mainly in Asia, to reduce high fevers and is carved into symbolic dagger
handles in the Middle East.
"Just a minute amount of a shaving of the rhino horn goes into the fever mixture, but it costs $30,000 for a kilogram," Dinerstein
said, adding there is no scientific evidence it actually reduces fever.
"Demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine has been a significant factor in driving rhinos close to extinction. Rhino horn is not used as an aphrodisiac, as is often believed," Lee Poston, communicator for WWF's endangered species program, told UPI. "We
have teamed up with the Chinese government and with the traditional Chinese
medicine communities in China and the United States to promote the use of alternatives
to rhino horn."
Efforts in San Francisco are one of the most successful outreach projects in
the United States. A recent survey of traditional Chinese medicine instructors
and practitioners there found 90 percent were aware of laws protecting tigers
and rhinos from use in TCM as well as their endangered status, according to
"That compares to just 60 percent in 1997," before the outreach campaign began. "The majority of TCM practitioners and instructors also said that saving endangered species takes priority over their continued use in TCM," Poston said. "This
year, the Chinese government allocated an unprecedented $3.75 million to research
and develop alternatives to endangered species used in TCM."
However, there is still a strong demand for dagger handles, particularly among
Yemeni men, according to Dinerstein.
Most critical to saving the rhino is preserving its habitat, such as the Terai
Arc, an area of forests and grasslands encompassing about 12.3 million acres,
and located in the shadow of the Himalayas. Stretching from Nepal's Bagmati
River to India's Yamuna River, Terai Arc is home to the Indian rhino.
"It's the most diverse area in the world," Dinerstein said. "There are 2,100
flowering plant species, 556 bird species, 80 mammal species and 47 reptile
and amphibian species. It's a flood plain so it has very fertile soil, plus
a mixture of different habitats."
The rich soil is ideal for farming, especially rice, and farmers do not want
rhinos eating their crops. However, the villages in the area now received income
from 100,000 tourists that visit the area each year to see the rhinos, whose
diet, along with cultivated crops, consists of grass, fruit, leaves, branches
and aquatic plants.
Actually, diet is paramount for rhinos, who spend most of their days foraging
for food -- they eat about 75 pounds a day. Second in size to the elephant
on land, at maturity they weigh from 4,000 to 6,000 pounds, stand 5 feet to
6 feet tall at the shoulder and can be as much as 12 to 15 feet in length.
"They have thick skin like an elephant and, to cool down from heat, they like to wallow in mud for about eight hours a day," Dinerstein
Most of Nepal's 600 greater Asian one-horned rhinos, or the Indian rhinos, live
in Royal Chitwan National Park where the habitat is shrinking.
Experts advise relocating the rhinos to Royal Bardia National Park and Royal
Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve, where there are fewer rhinos. The effort could
ensure the health and viability of endangered rhino populations, according
to Mingma Norbu Sherpa, director of conservation for WWF's Asia and Pacific
Born and raised in the Himalayas, Mingma is recognized as one of the most respected
conservationists in the Himalayan region.
"The Terai Arc is one of the most precious, yet fragile, landscapes in the world. A burgeoning human population has converted most of the valley's forests and grasslands to other land uses, shrinking critical habitat and leaving the rhinos vulnerable to poaching for their horns," he
"Expanding the rhino population beyond Royal Chitwan is crucial for protecting
both the health of the rhinos and reducing conflicts that exist between people
The Indian rhinos have risen from a low of barely 100 rhinos in 1971 to more
than 600 today.
Several times a year, skilled trackers, veterinarians, conservationists and government
experts tranquilize several rhinos and transport the 2-ton-plus creatures to
new homes within the Terai Arc.
Poston documented the translocation from April 14-25 on the WWF Web site: worldwildlife.org/expeditions/teraiarc/.
"The online expedition is an essential way for WWF to let the public know what is being done on the ground in the countries where we work," Poston said. "It
helps us showcase the muddy boots aspect of conservation and the people who
are out there on the edge, working in often remote, sometimes dangerous conditions
to save wildlife and habitats."
The translocation effort is part of an ambitious 50-year plan for WWF and its
partners to restore the ranging grounds of tigers, rhinos and elephants by
reconnecting 11 national parks in Nepal and India into one contiguous wildlife
corridor, according to Dinerstein.
"The Terai Arc Program is one of the most ambitious and important projects WWF has ever undertaken," said
"Bowling for Rhinos" is another effort to save the endangered species. Each
year, for the last 14 years, the American Association of Zoo Keepers has sponsored
a fundraising bowl-a-thon with more than 60 American and Canadian AAZK chapters
participating, raising more than $100,000 annually.
"Funds support the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (formerly Ngare Sergoi rhino sanctuary) in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra," Judith L. Gagen, director of public relations, Indianapolis Zoological Society, told UPI. "These
sanctuaries not only save rhinos, but also these entire ecosystems."
The money raised from the event is used to fence in these areas, purchase planes
and vehicles to curtail poaching, relocate rhinos into the sanctuary, and to
pay the salaries of anti-poaching security guards, according to Gagen.
Although rhinos breed normally in the wild, in captivity, breeding has proven
"At the Oregon Zoo in Portland, we have a female black rhino, Miadi, Pete and their calf, Imara," Anna Michel, senior Africa keeper, told UPI. "It
was a huge deal to have a rhino born in captivity and since Miadi's line is
not well-represented in the population it was a very significant birth, since
the vast majority of recent births have been males."
Three Southern White rhinos live at the Indianapolis Zoo -- a male named Ongava
and two females named Jao and Mombo. "We hope two of them will have a calf," Gagen
"They are oddly endearing," she said. "They have these big bodies, massive
heads, tiny eyes and they look at you in an interesting and charming way."