6 Audacious Efforts to Save Endangered Rhinos
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.