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6 Audacious Efforts to Save Endangered Rhinos

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It’s World Rhino Day, a day to celebrate what little time we have left with dwindling numbers of rhinoceroses. Most rhinoceros species are critically endangered, and some subspecies that were plentiful in the 1900s, such as the western black rhino, have already gone extinct from hunting, poaching, and habitat encroachment by farms. Illegal poaching—largely in pursuit of the rhinoceros horns that can fetch $30,000 a pound on the black market—kills a rhino every eight hours in South Africa alone, according to 2014 estimates. The northern white rhino subspecies, for one, is down to four individuals, all considered geriatric by rhino standards. 

As rhino numbers dwindle, conservation efforts have had to get more creative. Here are six proposals that might help save the rhinoceros. 

1. USING HIDDEN CAMERAS

As part of a system called the Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID), a group of British researchers suggest outfitting endangered rhinos with hidden cameras embedded in their horns. In combination with a heart rate monitor and GPS, the system would alert authorities if a rhino was felled by a poacher. Rangers could then helicopter into the exact location of the kill, and hopefully prosecute the poachers with the aid of the footage from the horn camera. 

2. CREATING SYNTHETIC RHINO HORNS

Rhino poaching is at a record high right now in South Africa, where 393 of the animals were killed in just the first four months of 2015. Poachers target rhinos for their horns, which are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine (despite being the equivalent of giant nose-fingernails). One bioengineering startup, Pembient, argues that instead of merely trying to quash black market demand for horns, they could create synthetic versions. Pembient claims it can make a synthetic rhino horn that is genetically the same as the real deal. It’s being used as an ingredient in a skin care line, and one Beijing brewery is using it to make rhino horn beer. 

3. FLYING THEM AROUND THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF MATES

When certain subspecies of rhinoceros are so critically endangered that only a few individuals are left, rhino romance takes on a whole new  level of import. For Harapan, a Sumatran rhino born at the Cincinnati Zoo, there were no eligible mates in his hemisphere. When Harapan’s sister died without producing any offspring, the Cincinnati Zoo decided to send America’s last Sumatran rhino to a breeding facility in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra. Hopefully there he’ll be able to find a lady love (or two!) and make beautiful rhino babies. 

4. PLACING THEM UNDER ARMED GUARD

In Kenya, the last male northern white rhino is protected around the clock by a series of armed guards. Sudan is the last male of his species who might be capable of breeding and, at 42, is getting on in years. But his caretakers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy still hope he might be able to produce offspring with his two female companions, who also sport radio transmitters and security details to protect them from horn hunters. The only other male northern white rhino died last year, and the subspecies is believed to only exist in captivity, making it understandable that Sudan has a security detail that rivals the U.S. president’s. 

5. TRACKING THEM WITH DRONES

As part of an effort to stop elephant and rhino poaching, the Lindbergh Foundation launched Air Shepherd, a program to deter poachers with drones. Teams fly remotely piloted aircraft with night-vision cameras near potential poaching sites (as determined by a predictive algorithm) and communicate via radio with rangers on the ground who can stop any poachers in the area that the drones' cameras spot. 

6. AIRLIFTING THEM TO SAFER REGIONS

An initiative called Rhinos Without Borders, started by filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, aims to simply move rhinos out of danger. The crowdfunded effort aims to airlift rhinos from South Africa, where some 80 percent of Africa’s rhinos live, to Botswana, where there are currently fewer poachers on the hunt for horns. Each rhino move costs around $45,000, and the group has moved 10 so far. They plan to move at least 100 in total.

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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Animals
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.

1. THEY’RE ACTUALLY PRETTY LIGHT EATERS.

Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.

2. THEY USE “CPR” TO GET AT YOUR FOOD.

A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.

3. THEY CAN CLIMB TREES.

It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.

4. THEY’LL EAT OTHER BEARS.

Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.

5. THEY LOVE MOTHS.

Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.

6. A PAIR OF THEM ONCE LIVED ON WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS.

A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.

7. THEY CAN RUN FASTER THAN USAIN BOLT.

The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).

8. THEY MATE WITH POLAR BEARS.

A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.

9. THEY KNOW HOW TO COVER THEIR TRACKS.

When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.

10. THEY’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET.

A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.

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