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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : December 2000 : A primer: white rhinos

A primer: white rhinos

By Javonna May-Mons
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
December 12, 2000

On Nov. 18, a white rhinoceros was born at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near Glen Rose. The Rhino was named Ajabu, which means "surprise" in Swahili, and weighed in at 136 pounds. Fully grown, she will tip the scales at 5,000 pounds. Ajabu is the second white rhino born at Fossil Rim this year, which is significant, says Bruce Williams, the center's vice president of conversation, because "there aren't but maybe four rhinos born in captivity a year. To have two in 12 months is truly awesome. Rhinos are an endangered species; white rhinos are on the "threatened" list. Fossil Rim is paying a major role in preserving the species.

How did the rhinoceros almost become extinct?

The rhino population was decimated by man, who hunted and killed thousands of rhinos and destroyed their natural habitat in Africa. It is estimated that there were dozens of species of rhinos in prehistoric times, but only five have survived. As recently as 1960, there were about 100,000 black rhinos in Africa, but that number has now dwindled to 2,600. There are 8,500 white rhinos in South Africa.

Was the rhino killed for food or other reasons?

Rhinos are hunted for their horn, which isn't technically a horn, but a mass of hair attached to the skin of the rhino's snout, similar to fingernails and hooves. Rhino horn is highly valued in certain parts of the world for medicinal and cultural reasons. In early times, the horn was made into drinking cups that were believed capable of detecting poison. In China, people believe the horn can be used as medicine to reduce fever. In Yemen, a Middle Eastern country, the horn is used to make handles for ceremonial knives, called jambiyas, worn by young men.

What is Fossil Rim doing to ensure the survival of the rhinoceros?

Fossil Rim is one of the world's leading wildlife conservation centers for rhinos. It has 1,500 acres of African-savannahlike land that provides a refuge for rhinos in captivity. Zoos around the United States send their rhinos to Fossil Rim in the hope that the favorable environment will encourage them to reproduce and thrive.

Why is Ajabu called a white rhino when it appears to be a darker color?

According to a story in the Star-Telegram, the white rhinoceros isn't named for its color - it is actually gray - but from the African word weit, describing their wide lips.

What other endangered species can be found at Fossil Rim?

Bruce Williams says that the wildlife center raises several endangered species, including some native to Texas. They include the red wolf, Mexican gray wolf, ocelot and Atwater prairie chicken. In addition, Fossil Rim also raises cheetahs, several species of antelope, red crowned crane and Grevy's zebra.

How is an animal designated as endangered?

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) gives the secretary of the interior responsibility for deciding whether to place an animal on the endangered or threatened list. Factors considered are whether the habitat or range of a species is threatened to be destroyed, modified or curtailed for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; whether the species is affected by disease or predation; whether existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate; and if other natural or manmade factors threaten its existence.



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