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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : December 2000 : Columbus Zoo helping effort to protect endangered rhinos

Columbus Zoo helping effort to protect endangered rhinos

By Michelle Everhart
The Columbus Dispatch
December 7, 2000

Most people probably wouldn't think of the rhinoceros as a precursor to the fabled unicorn.

But Tom Foose believes in magic.

Foose, program director of the International Rhino Foundation, said the mythical unicorn probably was patterned after an ancient rhino that looked like a heavy horse and had a long horn on its head.

Foose, who spoke yesterday at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said he considers modern rhinos just as mythical and magical -- creatures that are important to save.

Foose's foundation is a nonprofit group dedicated to the conservation of rhinos worldwide.

The foundation -- based at the Wilds in Muskingum County, about 65 miles east of Columbus -- got its start in Columbus in 1989.

All five species of rhinos -- black, white, Indian, Javan and Sumatran -- are endangered, with a total population worldwide of 16,000 in the wild and 1, 000 in captivity. The Columbus Zoo has three black rhinos.

"Rhinos can recover through protection,'' Foose said.

"To a great extent, Columbus has been the cradle of the International Rhino Foundation.''

The Columbus Zoo has helped fund the program since 1993, donating about $25,000 a year. The money goes to help protect rhinos throughout Africa and Asia, but specifically in the Garamba National Park in Zaire.

Twenty-five other organizations each year come up with an additional $25,000 to pay for guards and vehicles to protect the park's rhinos, Foose said.

"Without money for guards, the rhinos would have disappeared,'' Foose said.

"A couple times, we couldn't even deliver money to the guards but they believed in us and the Columbus Zoo so they continued to work.''

Guards have protected rhinos in Garamba Park since 1995. Some have been killed while protecting the animals.

Poachers are the No. 1 reason for a decline in the rhino population. Ground rhino horns are thought to be a cure for high fevers and seizures in Chinese traditional medicine. The horns are sold on the black market for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

At a time when many organizations saw the conservation of rhinos as a lost cause, the zoo stepped in to help.

"Some places were afraid to fail,'' said Harry Peachy, head keeper of pachyderms at the Columbus Zoo. "We were looking for something in dire need of help and we found the rhinos.''

Some of the money the zoo donated was profit from the giant panda exhibit in 1992. Some came from fund-raisers and from the budgets of other zoo departments, Peachy said.

Now, Foose said, the rhinos are on their way back. All five species have maintained or increased their population in the past decade.

After members of the rhino foundation were kept out of Garamba Park for a year because of war, they returned to discover seven calves born during that time.

But while the rhinos appear to be gaining numbers, they still aren't out of the woods. Peachy said he doesn't know how long it will take for the species to recover, but the zoo is committed to helping.

"If we need to be there, we will be there,'' he said.



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