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What to do with all that ivory and horn…

In light of the global demise of elephants and rhinos, many countries have made a symbolic gesture of commitment by destroying their ivory stockpiles.

China, the United States, Kenya, France, the Philippines, Gabon and Hong Kong have all taken part.

While some see this as a celebratory gesture, it is contested by others.

Black rhinoceros and Africa elephant, Africa

photo: John Downer/WWF

The price tag for a kilo of ivory on the black market is worth over $1800 usd , which makes your average elephant worth about $18,000. While a kilo of rhino horn can fetch $65,000 usd, making the average rhino worth $130,000.

Imagine how much one country’s stockpile may be worth? When the US destroyed it’s 6 ton stockpile, it was like decimating approximately $9,800,000 usd. Could that money have been sold to China, raising money for conservation? Or would it have simply fueled demand, bringing a quicker end to our imperiled elephants?

To destroy:

*Ivory and horn left intact has the good chance of finding its way back onto the market, perpetuating the demand and adding to the poaching.
*It sends a powerful statement to the world that it is NOT a commodity. There is no worth.
*It also sends the message that the country will not tolerate the trade.
*To store ivory and horn, it is a security burden to most countries.

ivory crushed in denver by steel

Ivory destroyed by a steel rock crusher in Denver, Colorado. photo: Alex Hofford

To keep:

*Saving horns and ivory allows records to be kept on genetics, both for historical purposes as well as for DNA evidence used in court cases.
*If legalization occurs, it can be sold to raise money for conservation.
*It can be used to train wildlife sniffer dogs in airports to help control trafficking.
*In general, it is argued destruction of ivory makes it more scarce, spiking the demand

afp rhino horn stockpile

It’s no secret South Africa is pushing for legal trade in rhino horn. Their current stockpile stands at over 18 tons. photo” AFP


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The Great Zoo Debate

Zoos have been in existence since 3500BC, the oldest being discovered in Egypt, as an exotic collection for a king. What began as small menageries that symbolized power and wealth, morphed into a display for educational benefit by the early 19th century.

They’ve come a long way since, with currently over 1,000 zoos in existence worldwide. They exist as  zoological “gardens”, “animal theme parks”, “safari parks”, and “aquariums”.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna is the oldest running zoo, est in 1752

Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna is the oldest running zoo, est in 1752

The question is – Are zoos a necessity? In 2014, is there a place for them?

At Their Finest

Some animals, like the Sumatran rhino, are difficult to study in the wild. With a consistent environment and the ability to closely monitor and study their habits, preferences and behavior, scientists are able to put conservation efforts in place, through breeding programs.

With organized communication outlets like the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), they are able to monitor joint efforts through a listing of all initiatives, findings, and management of all zoo species.

The Cincinnati Zoo is well-known for their aid in the conservation of the Sumatran Rhino. Through close scientific study and the use of endocrinology and ultrasonography, they were able to help produce the first captive born Sumatran in 2001. As part of their role in attempting to sustain the Sumatran population, the zoo is partnered with the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia and support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) to prevent poaching.

harry and emi at cincy

Emi and Harapan photo: Cincinnati Zoo

The Chester Zoo in the UK, plays an active role in fundraising for conservation, with its Aid for Wildlife campaign. So far, they have managed to raise money and awareness for eight wildlife projects from China to Nigeria.

Zoos have evolved over the last century and the modern zoo’s mission is biodiversity conservation. To achieve this we must work inside and outside of the zoo—protecting species and habitats directly in the field,” said Catherine Barton, Assistant Conservation Officer with Chester Zoo

At Their Worst

The Surabaya Zoo, also known as the “Zoo of Death”, has gained notoriety for animal neglect and premature deaths. Just five days ago, a Komodo dragon perished, the second one within the last 3 months. 100 animals have perished since last summer, including a lion who hung himself in his enclosure from an errant piece of metal, and a giraffe who had consumed 40 lbs of plastic. The remaining animals suffer from lack of food and nutrients,  skin conditions, tumors, joint problems, and depression.

Melani, a sumatran tiger fed meat tainted with formaldehyde at the Surabaya Zoo, has since been rescued.

Melani, a sumatran tiger at the Surabaya Zoo, was fed meat tainted with formaldehyde. She has since been rescued.

Critics worldwide have been calling for the closure of this zoo. See: Petition to close the Surabaya Zoo

Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Zoo also generated global outrage.  They not only euthanized an adolescent giraffe as a means to population control within the zoo, but fed the carcass to its lions within public view.

The San Diego Zoo is the most frequented zoo in the US, receiving over 3 million annual visitors.

The San Diego Zoo is the most frequented zoo in the US, receiving over 3 million annual visitors.

Zoos like Cincinnati serve as ambassadors for conservation. They bridge the gap by showcasing the animal kingdom, a world many would never see outside of tv or computers. For some, it is their first introduction to animals. Education and conservation is critical.  But are animal welfare and education prioritized or animals simply being “put on display” in a monotonous lifetime of confinement?

In an Interview with David Hancocks, zoo architect and retired zoo director, he makes observations about the dilemna with the modern zoo.

If zoos started their planning and design processes by asking such questions how they could illustrate and celebrate bio-diversity, or help people understand the interconnectedness of all living things, or demonstrate interdependence, or help people understand how healthy eco-systems operate and are maintained, instead of just asking such simplistic questions as “where shall we build the new bear exhibit?” then we could begin to see some important developments in zoos. (see more in A Critical Look at the Future of Zoos)






Categories: Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Which is Your Favorite Rhino?

rhino sizes 45 species of rhinos used to exist in the world, dating back 50 million years. Today there are 5 remaining species. They are all endangered.

Indian Rhino

Indian or Greater one-horned Rhino

The largest is the Indian or Greater one-horned Rhino.  Living in India and Nepal, they are the “big guys”  in the Asian group, rivaling only the White Rhino for size; about 2 meters high and weighing in at 1800 to 2700 kg. They live near bodies of water, and are actually very good swimmers and can run up to 40mph (64 km) Both species of Asian rhinos use their incisors, not their horns, to defend themselves.

Javan Rhino

Javan Rhino

The Javan (or lesser one-horned rhino) is the “little brother” of the Asian rhinos. They are 1.4-1.7 meters high, weighing in at 900-2300kg, similar in size to the Black Rhinos of Africa. There are only approximately 37-44 left in Indonesia. They are the least vocal of the 5 species, and highly dependent on the forests for their survival.

black rhino 3

Black Rhino

Black rhinos are one of two species found in Africa, they are the slighter smaller, shyer and more aggressive than the White Rhinos. They are approximately 1.6 meters tall, the males weigh in at 1350 kg, while the females are about 900kg. They can be quick- running up to 34mph (55km) an hour. Like their White cousin, they are often seen with Oxpeckers on them; the birds remove ticks and parasites, helping keep them clean.

White Rhino

White Rhino

White Rhinos are the “big guys” on the African savanna, 1.5-1.8 meters high, they weigh in at 1800-3000 kg. They are distinct from the black rhinos, as they have a square head, which is lower to the ground. Unlike  other rhino species, they do not have a prehensile hooked lip for browsing and picking at bushes and branches,  instead they are built for grazing. They are the more docile of the two African species.

Sumatran Rhino

Sumatran Rhino (by: Johannes Pfleiderer)

Sumatrans have been on earth longer than any living mammal, but sadly there are less than 100 left. Living in parts of Borneo and Sumatra, they are the smallest of all the rhino species (1-1.5 meters high, weighing just 600-950kg). They have a unique reddish-brown coloring, with bristly hair. They are the most vocal of all rhinos, and quite agile, able to climb mountains and maneuver steep riverbanks.

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Who’s to Blame?

hornless rhino 2Vietnam

With direct correlation to their economic growth, Vietnam is responsible for much of the demand of rhino horn these days. Unfortunately in addition to the traditional Chinese medicine, horn is a status symbol and shows how affluent one is.


Not to be let off the hook, China is a guilty party as well. With horn being touted as a cure to everything from headaches to cancer, it’s still highly desired for supposed medicinal properties.

South Africa

In the midst of all the demand, is the country with the world’s supply-South Africa. In an interesting article “Poaching, Is There an End in Sight?”, wildlife activist Colin Bell believes SA is driving the demand for ivory and rhino horn. He suggests there should be hunting bans on all wildlife, especially rhinos.

What do you think?

Categories: Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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