Get updates about Greater One-Horned Rhinos direct from the field with this informative blog from WWF-India member Deba Kumar Dutta.
Get updates about Greater One-Horned Rhinos direct from the field with this informative blog from WWF-India member Deba Kumar Dutta.
Under the auspices of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 conservation program, a total of 18 greater one-horned rhinos have been translocated from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park from 2008 to the present. Five animals have been lost to poachers since the program began, but six calves have also been born in Manas.
The International Rhino Foundation was given the privilege of naming two of the reintroduced rhinos, an opportunity it extended to the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) at its 2012 annual conference. Participants at the conference voted for two names: Xavira, which was the name of a female greater one-horned rhino that lived at the Philadelphia Zoo for many years, and Syra, which is short for Syracuse, the city in which the conference was held. These names were given to Rhinos #6 & #7, both of which were translocated to Manas from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary on January 17, 2011.
by Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Ph.D. , IRF Asia Coordinator
One of the most important aspects of working in the field of wildlife conservation is for colleagues from different parts of the world being able to share experiences with the species they are trying to save. This account is of a recent opportunity that was provided me to do just that.
At the last meeting of the IUCN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, held from February 16-23, 2013 in Kenya, I had a casual conversation about rhino capture and translocation with Dr. Markus Hofmeyr, Head of Veterinary Wildlife Service for the Republic of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. I had hoped to learn more from Markus about the kinds of drugs he routinely used, wanting to improve similar efforts being carried out under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 initiative (IRV 2020). This important program receives significant support from the International Rhino Foundation and aims to attain a wild population of at least 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos in the state of Assam by the year 2020. This goal will be achieved by translocating rhinos from areas of high population density to new habitats, where effective protection programs can be put in place.
I asked Markus if it would be possible for me to take part in rhino capture efforts in Kruger, as this would greatly enhance my field experience. He readily agreed and invited me to visit anytime from May through September. June worked best, so I arrived mid-month with my colleague, Kaushik Barua, who handles capture logistics for IRV 2020.
Shortly after our arrival, Markus introduced us to his colleagues in Veterinary Wildlife Service. One of them, operations manager Johan Malan, showed me the many different types of crates he uses to transport wildlife, including both white and black rhinos. Johan also showed me the bomas (shelters) that his staff constructs for housing captured white rhinos.
On the morning of June 19th we met before dawn at the Veterinary Wildlife Service office and from there travelled to the southern part of Kruger. Our goal for the day was to capture four white rhinos. All crates and other logistics were already in place and the Service’s senior manager, Dr. Peter Buss, was stationed in a helicopter high above our team, from which he would dart the target animals. At 0815 hrs he successfully darted a mother and calf, which support staff on the ground were soon able to approach to collect biological samples.
After the samples were collected, both animals rhinos were walked to their awaiting crates. A second mother and calf were darted at 0950 hrs and the same process was followed. However, while the two mother rhinos were transported in different crates, the two calves were placed in a single crate fitted with a divider.
Two days later, we embarked on a second capture expedition, this one led by Dr. Hofmeyr, who darted two sub-adult females. Both animals were sedated prior to being transferred to their bomas, which serves to calm the animals and reduce physical damage that might be caused by moving them to a restricted environment.
One thing that immediately impressed me about rhino translocation operations in Kruger National Park was the type of crates they used. Crates used are essentially 20-ft-long, steel shipping containers, which are incredibly durable and strong enough to handle two-ton pachyderms. By comparison, we have traditionally used wooden crates in India, which are suitable for transporting such large animals but have significantly shorter lifespans and require more frequent maintenance. Perhaps it is time that we switch to steel crates in Assam? Having posed that question and the possible need for change, I’m proud to state that IRV 2020 rhino translocations have been very successful to date, with no serious injuries or casualties having taken place during the capture and translocation processes.
Two weeks ago, we proudly announced the birth of two new Indian rhinos in Manas National Park as part of Indian Rhino Vision 2020 program. Today, we share the sad news that the mother of one the new calves, Rhino 17, was gunned down last week, her horn removed by poachers. We are outraged at this loss – this is the third translocated rhino killed in the past six months. The two week-old male calf, who was missing for a day, survived the attack and was found dehydrated and traumatized near its mother’s body. The calf has since been transferred to a facility for hand-rearing.
IRF and partners have decided the most responsible and safest course of action is to immediately capture the remaining 17 rhinos and place them into large ‘bomas’ (pens) with around-the-clock security until the poaching situation can be brought under control.
Within the next two weeks, we will construct at least seven bomas in the park. Once construction is finished, the remaining rhinos will be immobilized and moved to the bomas for safety. To prevent fighting, males will be housed separately, with females and calves in one large boma (as they do not tend to fight). Each animal’s radiocollar will be refitted with new transmitters and batteries; those animals without collars will receive them. This will allow us to track the animals once they are re-released.
While these emergency actions are taking place, IRF and its partners, WWF-India, the Bodo Territorial Council and the USFWS, are putting pressure on high level government officials to implement agreed-upon security measures for Manas National Park, with staff accountability and a renewed effort by the park authorities to safeguard these precious animals.
Rhinos across Africa and India are being killed at unprecedented rates to feed the global black market for rhino horn, which has long been used in traditional Asian medicine as a fever reducer. In recent years, a new market has emerged in Vietnam, where it is marketed as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to hangovers, all without a medical or scientific basis. Vietnam has done little to enforce its laws or its commitments as a signatory to the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Some experts have proposed trade sanctions against Vietnam until it begins to effectively deal with its burgeoning wildlife crime.
Question: How does one weigh the recent news of two rhino calves born in India’s Manas National Park against reports of increased poaching in the region?
Answer: These new additions to the Park’s rhino population help offset losses that, unfortunately, are difficult to prevent. The births also offer hope that efforts designed to restore Indian rhinos to former habitats and safeguard the species’ future will ultimately prove successful.
A little more than a century ago, northeastern India was home to three rhino species – the greater one-horned or Indian rhino, the Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino. Throughout recorded history, this region appears to be the only one on Earth where three different rhino species could be found. However, hunting and habitat loss spelled the eventual demise of two species in India. The Javan rhino, a smaller relative of its one-horned Indian cousin and once said to be common in the state of Bengal, was extirpated – wiped out – by about 1900. The Sumatran rhino, the smallest of the living species and more closely related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros than to any of the surviving forms, used to be found in the hill country of Assam until about 1935. Only the Indian rhino remains, with the largest populations found in the Brahmaputra River valley.
Somewhere around 3,300 wild Indian rhinos are believed to survive in northeastern India and neighboring Nepal. The largest population is found in Kaziranga National Park. The most recent survey estimates as many as 2,330 animals, which is an increase of about 40 individuals over the last year despite losses due to drowning during seasonal flooding, a number of recent poaching incidents, and the translocation of eight rhinos to Manas National Park as part of an ambitious reintroduction program – Indian Rhino Vision 2020. The program’s goal is to restore this threatened species throughout strategic portions of its former range. Objectives call for reaching a population of at least 3,000 rhinos in the state of Assam by the year 2020 by establishing secure populations in seven protected areas, including Manas National Park. Although rhinos were once common in Manas, violent civil conflict that began in 1989 caused massive damage to the park’s infrastructure, including the destruction of anti-poaching camps, roads and villages. The park’s original rhino population was extirpated in 1996.
The first coordinated round of Indian Rhino Vision 2020 translocations to Manas began in 2008, when two male rhinos were moved from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. To date, 18 animals have been translocated from both Pobitora and Kaziranga. The program is a joint effort of the International Rhino Foundation, the Government of Assam, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Bodoland Territorial Council, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last summer, the first rhino born in Manas since translocation efforts began was discovered by rhino monitoring units – a calf born to Rhino #10. Given that the female had been moved to Manas less than a year before, it’s clear that she was pregnant prior to the translocation. Only a few days ago, rangers discovered two more surprises. Both Rhino #8 and Rhino #12 were spotted with calves in tow. The latter female also must have been pregnant prior to the move, but Rhino #8 has been in Manas since January 2011, so it’s clear that she was impregnated by one of the translocated males. This represents the first successful breeding in the national park since Indian Rhino Vision 2020 was launched almost five years ago.
In the midst of the recent poaching pressure in northeastern India, these births are very encouraging. The high demand for rhino horn in the illegal wildlife trade continues to be the biggest threat to Indian rhinos, especially this new population. Two translocated rhinos have fallen prey to poachers in the past two years. The next major step in the program will be to return rhinos to Assam’s Laokhowa-Burachapori complex, a site where they were poached out in the 1980s.
If you’d like to help support these critical conservation efforts, go to: http://www.rhinos.org/donate.
In his book, The Future of Life, biologist Edward O. Wilson had this to say about the first time he laid eyes upon the rare Sumatran rhinoceros in the flesh: “One of the most memorable events of my life occurred on a late May evening in 1994, in a back room of the Cincinnati Zoo, when I walked up to a four-year-old Sumatran rhinoceros named Emi, gazed into her lugubrious face for a while, and placed the flat of my hand against her hairy flank. She made no response except maybe to blink her eyes. That’s it; that’s all that happened. No matter: I had at last met my real-life unicorn.”
The unicorn is an imaginary creature that symbolizes purity. It was first described by Ancient Greek naturalists as a species that inhabited the distant land of India. Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) spoke of the monoceros, “a very fierce animal … which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length.” Perhaps the Indian rhinoceros comes to mind?
The unicorn legend became popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The creature was said to roam the woodlands and could only be captured by a virgin. Many people believed that its horn, which was called an alicorn, was an antidote to poison and could be used to treat illness. Alicorns could be purchased from Scandinavian traders, but the price was extravagant – per weight, supposedly many times more than that of gold. The average alicorn was grooved and about three feet long. Unfortunately, it never came from a unicorn. A Dutch physician and naturalist, Ole Wurm, told the world the truth, the alicorn was really the long tusk of the small arctic whale known as the narwhal. Narwhals are still hunted today for their tusks by certain indigenous populations, but many experts believe that this is not sustainable over the long-term.
That the rhinoceros might be likened to the legendary unicorn is not so far-fetched, certainly no stranger than ancient sailors believing that hefty, whiskered sea mammals like dugongs and manatees were really mermaids. Rhinos are distant relatives of horses and the horns of some rhino species can grow quite long. So, with a dash of imagination and perhaps a pinch of intoxication, a person viewing a rhino could conjure the image of a unicorn in his mind, although that transformation would seem to be a bit easier with several of the antelope species, such as the oryx, that sport spectacular horns, albeit in pairs and from the top of the skull instead of the nose.
Like the unicorn’s unusual appendage, the rhino’s horn also was once believed to detect and neutralize poison, and it is still believed by many Asian people to have medicinal properties. As a result, white and black rhinos in southern Africa are now being killed by poachers at the rate of almost two per day. If such slaughter continues, decades of dedicated efforts to bring these species back from the brink of extinction will have been for naught.
Unicorns never existed, but rhinos can and must survive as living legends.
If you’d like to know more about what the International Rhino Foundation is doing to combat poaching in southern Africa, go to: http://www.rhinos.org/operation-stop-poaching-now.
Perhaps the most famous illustration of a rhinoceros ever made was an ink drawing or woodcut done nearly five centuries ago by the German artist Albrecht Durer. Interestingly enough, Durer had never laid eyes upon a living rhinoceros, but based his detailed work on the inferior sketch penned by an unknown artist who had. Thus, one can understand why Durer’s Rhinoceros suffered a few anatomical inaccuracies – its skin was a covering of huge armored plates with rivets along the seams and it also sported a small, twisted secondary horn at the base of its neck. Despite that, we easily recognize Durer’s representation as being that of an Indian or greater one-horned rhinoceros, and the image has certainly withstood the test of time. And well it should have, as the subject’s story is quite interesting.
Early in the year 1515, Alphonso Alburquerque, the governor of what was then Portuguese India, arranged for a special gift – a live rhinoceros – to be given to King Manuel I of Portugal. Animal gifts to royalty were fairly common in those times, with many people of nobility keeping exotic personal menageries. Called Ganda, the female rhinoceros had been captured in what is now the state of Assam. She was put aboard the Nossa Senorada Ajuda along with her keeper, Ocem, and the ship set sail from the port of Goa in January. It ventured westward across the Indian Ocean, rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Lisbon 120 days later.
It would be safe to say that Ganda was something of a sensation in her new home, her kind not having been seen in Europe since the days of the Roman Empire. She resided in the royal menagerie at Ribeira Palace, but the King ordered that she not be kept near the elephants, as the two species were believed to be mortal enemies. However, within a matter of only a few weeks, he decided to verify this supposed fact and arranged for a battle between the beasts. The fight was held in a courtyard and attended by the royal family and their guests. The youngest elephant in the King’s menagerie was led into the arena from its stable, and the tapestries hiding the rhinoceros were drawn open. An observer by the name of Valentin Ferdinand wrote that the rhinoceros appeared furious and immediately charged her foe, so violently that she broke free of her chain. The young elephant, whose back was initially turned to Ganda, reacted to her charge by “uttering a tremendous cry”, turning tail and bolting to safety through a thick set of iron bars.
How this affected the King is not recorded by history. However, instead of keeping his new pet rhino, he decided to re-gift Ganda to Pope Leo X. She was put aboard a ship bound for the Holy City, but this time adorned with a gilded chain, a green velvet collar, and a garland of roses and carnations. The sea voyage began in December, the ship docked briefly in Marseilles in January, and then headed for Rome. Unfortunately, a storm encountered in the Gulf of Genoa sunk the ship and drowned all who were aboard, including Ganda. But all was not lost. Her body washed ashore, was recovered, stuffed and ultimately delivered to the Pope.
This historical account refers to the greater one-horned or Indian rhinoceros, which today is a threatened species. If you’d like to know more about what the International Rhino Foundation is doing to help save this species and help support these efforts, go to: http://www.rhinos.org/indian-rhino-vision-2020.
“R” is for Rhinos, and also for …. Radio-telemetry.
The technology known as radio-telemetry enhances our ability to track and monitor rhinos. The principles of radio-telemetry are essentially the same as listening to a radio news broadcast. A small portable transmitter – think of it as a miniature radio station – emits radio waves that travel invisibly through the air, are picked up by an antenna and channeled to a receiver. However, instead of commentary, music or advertisement, the transmitter emits a series of beeps – or is it bleeps? Either way, the sound emitted by each transmitter can be set to a different frequency, allowing the listener to tune in to a specific one and determine from which direction the sound has originated.
Wildlife biologists routinely use radio-telemetry equipment to pinpoint the location of animals that are otherwise difficult to find and track. More often than not, the transmitters are attached to collars that are specially designed not to restrict, hinder or harm but, depending on the target species, sometimes the transmitters can be attached to or imbedded in the animal’s body itself, such as in the dorsal fin of whale or the horn of a rhino. As they say, “This isn’t rocket science,” but developing technologies should allow field researchers to gather more important information about the animals they study.
Two IRF projects employ radio-telemetry as standard practice – monitoring programs for translocated black rhinos in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld conservancies and for reintroduced greater one-horned rhinos in Manas National Park as part of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 initiative. In Zimbabwe, more use is made of transmitters that can be placed inside a small cavity drilled that’s drilled into the rhino’s horn after it has been immobilized. Black rhinos have two relatively large horns, so the size ratio of horn to transmitter favors this strategy. By comparison, the word “greater” in greater one-horned rhino refers not to the size of the horn, but to the bulk of the beast, and its relatively smaller horn is a less favorable site for a radio transmitter. Consequently, reintroduced rhinos in Assam, India are fitted with special, flexible radio-collars. The science is the same, but there are practical differences to consider. At the end of the battery’s life on a radio-collared rhino, the animal has to be immobilized a second time to remove the collar, which poses some risk to the rhino. A horn implant, by comparison, simply “grows out’’ of the horn after about three years.
By radio-tracking rhinos that are also individually identifiable by sex, size, scars, ear-notches and ear-tags, wildlife biologists are able to continuously monitor their movements across large areas. For example, black rhinos released in Zimbabwe’s Bubye and Save Valley Conservancies can conceivably roam over more than a million acres. On the other hand, greater one-horned rhinos in Manas National Park may tend to concentrate their activity close to the park perimeter and perhaps cross over into unprotected territory. In either case, rhino rangers and park guards must monitor their whereabouts to protect them from the threat of poachers.
A new approach to rhino radio-telemetry is currently being tested in southern Africa – attaching transmitters to ankle bracelets. Although these transmitters are relatively large, they add the capacity to relay positions via satellite links. Some wildlife biologists remain wary of their use, due to the risk of lesions to the rhinos’ legs or because the units can be damaged if the rhinos bash them against rocks or trees. Another new approach is RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) transponder technology, which allows smaller devices to be used. This is currently being tested in an International Rhino Foundation project in Zimbabwe, as well as in Namibia.
By experimenting with new ways to track and monitor these impressive creatures, rhino conservationists will gain a better understanding of their ecology and behavior, and hopefully will become more adept at protecting and rebuilding rhino populations.
For more information about Indian Rhino 2020 and the translocation of Greater one-horned rhinos in Assam, please watch the video below.
Fast Facts About Rhinos and Their Horns
By Sectionov, Indonesia Liaison, IRF
The horn on a rhinoceros is very different from that of a sheep or antelope. A rhino’s horn is not attached to the skull. Rhino horn is made of compressed keratin fibers, the same material that is found in fingernails and hair! Some people believe that rhino horn has powerful medicinal uses, ranging from stopping nosebleeds and headaches to curing diphtheria and food poisoning, but there is no scientific evidence that this is true. The use of rhino horn for medical purposes has been illegal since 1993. Trade continues, however, and is driving the illegal poaching of endangered rhinos. Asian rhino horns are more highly prized than African horns; consumers believe that their smaller size means that they are more concentrated, and therefore more potent. One repeated misconception is that rhinoceros horn in powdered form is used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine. It is, in fact, generally prescribed for fevers and convulsions. The horns are also valued as dagger handles in Middle Eastern countries like Yemen, where they are known as “jambiyas.”
To prevent poaching in certain areas, rhinos have been tranquilized and their horns removed. Many rhino range states have stockpiles of rhino horn, which needs to be carefully managed.
The African and the Asian rhinoceroses have some distinct characteristics. Morphologically, one obvious difference is that both African varieties have two horns in tandem, while the Sumatran rhino has two horns, but one typically is a stub, and the other two Asian types, Greater one-horned and Javan rhinos, have a single horn. Behaviorally, it has been found that African rhinos are more aggressive than Asian rhinos. African rhinos fight with their horns, using them to impale and throw their adversaries, while the Asian rhino fights with its bottom teeth, using them in a slashing motion. Their feeding habits vary as well. African rhinos feed low to the ground, whereas the Asian rhino browses on leaves that are higher.
The White Rhino has an immense body and large head, with a short neck and broad chest. This rhino can exceed 3,500 kg (7,700 lb), has a head-and-body length of 3.5–4.6 m (11–15 ft) and a shoulder height of 1.8–2 m (5.9–6.6 ft) The largest White Rhinoceros on record was about 4,600 kg (10,000 lb). On its snout it has two horns. The front horn is larger than the other horn and averages 90 cm (35 in) in length and can reach 150 cm (59 in). The White Rhinoceros also has a prominent muscular hump that supports its relatively large head. The colour of this animal can range from yellowish brown to slate grey.
An adult Black Rhinoceros stands 150–175 cm (59–69 in) high at the shoulder and is 3.5–3.9 m (11–13 ft) in length. An adult weighs from 850 to 1,600 kg (1,900 to 3,500 lb), with particularly large rhinos weighing up to 1,800 kg (4,000 lb), and the females are smaller than the males. Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 50 cm long (20 inches), but sometimes up to 140 cm (55 inches). Sometimes, a third smaller horn may develop. The Black Rhino is much smaller than the white rhino, and has a pointed mouth, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding.
The Greater One-Horned (or Indian) Rhinoceros has thick, silver-brown skin which creates huge folds all over its body. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps, and it has very little body hair. Fully-grown males are larger than females in the wild, weighing from 2,500–3,200 kg (5,500–7,100 lb). The Indian rhino stands at 1.75-2.0 meters (5.75-6.5 ft). Female Indian rhinos weigh about 1,900 kg (4,200 lb). The Indian Rhino is from 3–4 metres (10 – 14 feet) long. The record-sized specimen of this rhino was approximately 3,800 kg (8,377 lb). The Indian Rhino has a single horn that reaches a length of between 20 and 100 cm (8 – 39 inches). Its size is comparable to that of the White Rhino in Africa.
The Javan rhino‘s body length reaches up to 3.2 m (10 ft), including its head, and is 1.5–1.7 m (4 ft 10 in–5 ft 7 in) tall. Adults are variously reported to weigh between 900–2,000 kg (2,000 – 4,400 lbs). Male horns can reach 26 cm (10 inches) in length while in females they are knobs or are not present at all.
Typically a mature Sumatran rhino stands about 130 cm (51 in) high at the shoulder, with a body length of 240–315 cm (94–124 in), and weighs around 700 kg (1,500 lb), though the largest individuals have been known to weigh as much as 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb). Like the African species, it has two horns; the largest is the front (25–79 cm or 10 – 31 inches) and the smaller is second, and is usually less than 10 cm (4 inches) long. The males have much larger horns than the females. Hair can range from dense (the most dense hair is in young calves) to scarce. The color of these rhinos is reddish brown. The body is short and has stubby legs. They also have a prehensile lip.
World Record Rhino Horns
According to a study by Dr. Nico van Strien in 2006, the longest rhino horn ever recorded was a 150 cm (59 inch) white rhino horn. This means the rhino’s horn alone was longer that the average adult pig! This horn was found before 1900 in South Africa and it was owned by Sir William Gordons Cummings, but according to the most recent information, the horn was stolen and its whereabouts are unknown.
The longest black rhino horn on record was 130 cm (51 inches) long; it was found in Kenya in 1928. The world record rhino horn for the Greater one-horned rhino is 57 cm (23 inches), and was found in Assam in 1909, and the world record Sumatran rhino horn is 60 cm (23 inches). Both of these horns are currently housed at the British Museum, which also has several Javan rhino horns.