May 1st is International Save the Rhino Day. There are only five species of rhino on Earth, and all of them are under threat of extinction - in the case of the Javan rhino, only 35 remain, and the western black rhino of Africa, a subspecies of Africa's black rhino, was recently declared extinct.
One major reason for the decline in rhino populations is excessive poaching. Demand for rhino horn in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, where it is used in traditional medicine, has led to more and more sophisticated poachers and increased slaughter of the animals. But environmental factors also play a role, with the destruction of some habitats endangering rhinos around the world.
There are a number of organizations working to protect rhinos around the world. Save the Rhino is focused primarily on preserving ecosystems, while the International Rhino Foundation works to fund anti-poaching initiatives as well as supporting conservation and management of existing populations. Here's a brief overview of what's being done.
According to NBC, rhino horn is now worth more than its weight in gold, leading to increases in the poaching of rhino populations around the world. In South Africa alone, nearly two rhinos are killed each day to meet demand for the animal's horn, and the pace at which they are being slaughtered today has risen dramatically. Presently in South Africa, more rhinos are killed in a week than were killed in a whole year as of a decade ago.
In 2011, 449 rhinos were killed in South Africa, a terrible record for a single year. That number may well be surpassed in 2012: as of yesterday, 199 South African rhinos had been killed this year.
The IRF is working to improve anti-poaching operations in eleven highly threatened rhino habitats in South Africa and Zimbabwe. They are asking for donations to help rangers who patrol parks where rhinos live. Donations go to everything from fingerprinting kits to help identify poachers after the fact, to security training to help the rangers defeat poachers in the field.
Poaching is not the only threat to rhino populations. Damage to the habitats where the animals live is also putting them in danger, and according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves". Some populations are actually increasing - the southern white rhino and Indian rhino are thriving in well-protected sanctuaries - but species that don't live in The remaining 35 members of the Javan rhino species, for instance, are located in the forests of Indonesia, which have been threatened by commercial pulp plantations.
160 video cameras have been installed in Ujung Kulon National Park, where the Javan rhinos live, by the WWF and the International Rhino Foundation. The hope is that by monitoring the rhinos using the cameras, they will be able to track the animals' habits in order to better understand how they live and breed. The cameras will also serve as a security system, should any poachers attempt to harm the rhinos.
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