CLOSE
iStock
iStock

6 Audacious Efforts to Save Endangered Rhinos

iStock
iStock

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
iStock

Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Google
arrow
Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios