The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) held its annual public Expo at San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center last Saturday, featuring field biologists and conservation organizations from five continents. Presentations featured a wide variety of threatened species, including African elephants, whale sharks, cheetah, lions, snow leopards, zebras, African wild dogs, Ethiopian wolves, okapi, cotton-top tamarins, Andean cats and African rhinos.
Keynote speaker Jane Goodall opened the day’s events with a critical, yet compassionate look at how humans, arguably the most intelligent and knowledgeable species that has evolved to this point in time, have managed to make such a mess of the planet and threaten the survival of so many other species. Her call to action emanated from such facts as there being only about 300,000 chimpanzees left in Africa and that last year alone more than 30,000 elephants were killed for the ivory in their tusks. It’s quite sobering to ponder those figures with respect to the world’s remaining rhinos. Chimpanzee populations presently outnumber rhinos 10 to one and, if rhinos were being poached for their horn at the same rate as elephants, the entire world population would have disappeared in a single year.
Despite these numbing statistics, Dr. Goodall remains hopeful that humankind will turn the tide and commit to saving endangered species and their habitats. Speakers who followed echoed her hopes for preserving the natural world, including Raoul du Toit, African Coordinator for the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and director of Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust. Raoul is a recipient of two very prestigious awards – the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Sir Peter Scott Award – which recognize his years of work trying to save Africa’s rhinos. Presently, the Lowveld Rhino Trust manages several hundred black and white rhinos, representing more than 90% of the national population. Through a system of intensive tracking and monitoring, the identification of individual rhinos, anti-poaching patrols, de-horning to deter poaching, emergency veterinary treatments, the rescue and release of orphaned calves, and the translocation of animals from threatened areas to more secure locations, Raoul and his team have managed to increase the Lowveld rhino population by an average annual rate of at least 5%, despite the constant threat of poaching. Looking to the future, it’s believed that available habitat within the Lowveld region can hold nearly double the current rhino population, so there is tremendous incentive to maintain and expand the ongoing management program.
The IRF is very grateful to the Wildlife Conservation Network for inviting Raoul to speak about his rhino conservation efforts, and would also like to thank the following institutions and agencies for their generous support of Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust: the Perry R. Bass II Foundation, the Bland Family Foundation, Blank Park Zoo, Buffalo Zoo, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Houston Zoo, JDD Holdings LLC, Robert P. Jornayvaz III (Intrepid Production Inc.), Paul Tudor Jones, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, Mesker Park Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Orvis, Gladys Porter Zoo Docents, Reid Park Zoo, Lee Richardson Zoo, Rolling Hills Wildlife Center, Saint Louis Zoo AAZK Chapter, San Francisco Zoological Society, SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Sedgwick County Zoo, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, Valley Zoological Society, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Walter Family Foundation, the Warner Family Foundation, Zoo Lille, Zoo Miami, and Zoo New England.
Other organizations attending the WCN Expo also included rhinos as part of their exhibits, including confiscated rhino horns and products made from other endangered species, and campaigns aimed at shutting down the illegal international wildlife trade.