State of the Rhinoceros: Ten Things You Need to Know
Credit: Richard Ruggiero / USFWS
- There are five species of rhinoceros: Black, White, Greater-one horned, Javan and Sumatran.
- Three of the five species have an imperiled listing by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List as Critically Endangered, one is listed as Vulnerable and one is listed as Near Threatened. In other words, all five species of rhinoceros are in big trouble and we are losing them very quickly.
- Their name is from Latin rhinoceros and from Greek rhinokeros, literally “nose-horned,” from rhinos “nose” + keras “horn.”
- Unlike the horns of other hooved animals, the horns of rhinos do not have a bony core and are comprised of compressed hair. Because the horns are inaccurately thought to contain medicinal qualities, all rhinoceros species have been hunted to the brink of extinction. In addition, the animal need not die to acquire the horn as removal is essentially the same as clipping an enormous toenail, because it is composed of keratin. Yep, that’s right. When one consumes rhinoceros horn, they are basically eating toenails.
- Fossil records indicate rhinoceroses arose during the Eocene period, 55 million years ago, and at least 30 species existed once. While modern day rhinos live in warm climates, there once were rhino species that were adapted for cold climates, including one known as the wooly rhinoceros.
- All rhinos eat only plant material, which makes them herbivores. They use their horns to dig up roots or break branches while foraging for food.
- Rhino calves are cared for by their mothers (but not their fathers) for up to four years, after a pregnancy of 15-16 months, and the mother does not have additional babies during this time. In biology, we call this a low fecundity, referring to the fact that rhinos, as a species, have a low frequency of births and a low number of babies at one time (usually just one). This slow “turn around” makes it all the more difficult for rhinos, as a species, to overcome events that are destroying them faster than they can produce more rhino babies, such as poaching and habitat destruction.
- A group of rhinos is called a crash. Understandable.
- World Rhino Day is celebrated annually on September 22 to raise awareness of threats to all five species of rhinos.
- Each year the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) sponsors a fund raising bowl-a-thon in which more than 60 AAZK chapters participate throughout the US and Canada and raise between $200,000- $300,000 annually. One-hundred percent of all funds raised goes directly to in situ conservation projects, conserving four species of rhino, their habitats, and hundreds of other endangered plants and animals. Bowling for Rhinos helps preserve the black and white rhino in Africa and the Javan and Sumatran rhino in Indonesia.
This was a good week in the fight to protect rhinos because a poacher was sentenced to 77 years in jail for his role in killing three rhinos and in the death of his partner during a shoot out with preserve rangers. Let’s hope this sentence serves as a deterrent to other poachers.
Keep checking in as I will be writing a blog for each individual species of rhino, highlighting their natural history, morphological characteristics, chief conservation threats and ways we can all help save them.
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