An Insatiable Demand
Across Africa, rhinoceros populations are declining. These amazing animals are targeted by poachers who sell the body parts to traditional healers, who erroneously believe these products can cure a variety of ailments. Rhino poaching has become particularly acute in recent years as Asian markets are increasingly looking towards Africa to fill the gaps left by Asia’s declining rhino populations. Over the past decade, these activities have driven the western black rhino to extinction, while only two northern white rhinos remain. If the threat of poaching is not reversed, rhinos in both Africa and Asia will go extinct in the future.
Aiding Anti-Poaching Strategies in Namibia
The North Carolina Zoo participates in a multi-pronged effort to ensure the continued survival of rhinos across the world. The Zoo’s flagship rhino conservation project occurs in northern Namibia, home to one of the largest black rhino populations in the world; this area also supports good numbers of southern white rhino, elephants, lions, leopards, and other species targeted by poachers. The Zoo has been working with several conservation organizations in the region since 2016 to implement an anti-poaching program based on the SMART software package that the zoo helped develop. Using SMART, foot and vehicle patrols, K9 units, and helicopter pilots in northern Namibia are now collecting their observations on rugger tablets and smart phones. The digitization of data collection in turn allows information to be quickly analyzed to improve conservation strategies.
A pilot project for the region—and one of the first of its kind in Africa—was established in 2017, whereby a secure cloud-based version of SMART namely “SMART Connect” was set up at one ranger base. By storing patrol data in the cloud, SMART not only provides increased data security, but also allows higher-level conservation managers to access patrol data and generate reports from anywhere that they have an internet connection. Conservationists on the ground have found this so effective that they have expanded SMART Connect to an additional two patrol stations in mid-2018.
Zookeepers Participating in Rhino Protection Efforts
Each year, the North Carolina Chapter for the American Association for Zookeepers (NC AAZK) hosts Bowling for Rhinos (BRF). This event, which is held at selected locations across North America, raises funds in support of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, International Rhino Foundation, and Action for Cheetahs in Kenya. Through BFR, the NC AAZK has already raised over $177,000 since BFR started in 1990, while chapters like ours across the nation have collectively raised over $7 million! The 2018 BFR event was held in Greensboro on September 12, and included laser tag, prizes for top money raisers, as well as a silent auction.
Cooperative Management of Rhinos Under Human Care
In July 2018, North Carolina Zoo celebrated the arrival of not one but TWO southern white rhino calves at the Zoo! The birth of these two little rhinos not only make an important contribution to the population sustainability of this species under human care, but also highlight the responsibilities of the North Carolina Zoo as a partner of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s southern white rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP). The purpose of SSPs is to coordinate activities among partner institutions to maintain a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied population under human care. Consequently, the breeding of rhinos living at the North Carolina Zoo were cooperatively managed by SSP partner institutions, and any future transfers of these animals will be done to ensure they maximize their contribution to the sustainability of this species under human care.
Partners: Minnesota Zoo, Safe the Rhino Trust, Southern White Rhino SSP