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Rhino May Day 2008

14 May 2008 in London

The annual Rhino May Day was held in the Huxley Conference Theatre at the Zoo in Regent’s Park, London. Participants had a great day of exciting talks and the chance to meet other rhino enthusiasts. There were about 100 people in the audience, one of whom returned home with a baby toy rhinoceros which just fits in a taxi after buying a raffle ticket.

The day was organised by the Rhino Resource Center in conjunction with Save the Rhino International and the Zoological Society of London.

The abstracts of the papers are below for those who could not attend.


in alphabetical order




CITES CoP14 Update
Abigail Day             Safari Club International Foundation

Since the last Rhino Mayday, we have seen the 14th CITES Conference of the Parties, part of the UN Environment Program, and with over 170 countries taking part, the most important forum for worldwide wildlife conservation.   This presentation will cover what CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) does and how it operates, the principle of sustainable use of natural resources which underpins it, important decisions made at the 2007 conference, and why rhinos were centre stage.

Developments in the IRF funded projects in Asia
Susie Ellis                        International Rhino Foundation

In response to the global crisis in rhino conservation, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) protects particularly threatened rhino populations in the wild while also supporting management of and research on captive populations to improve the chances for long-term survival. All five rhino species are in terrible peril - from poaching, from forest loss and habitat conversion, and from human settlements encroaching on their habitats in Africa, Indonesia, and India.  But, all are in better shape than might be expected because of the IRF’s collaborative partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals, who, together, are using their talents, skills, and resources to help these remarkable species survive.

Education outreach at Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania
Maggie Esson                                                            Chester Zoo

The Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania has been upgraded to National Park status. The rehabilitation of this over-grazed, degraded and eroded landscape has been undertaken as a partnership between the Wildlife Division of the Government of Tanzania and Tony Fitzjohn, the Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. Together with Tsavo National Park in Kenya to the north of the border, Mkomazi forms one of the largest protected ecosystems in Africa.
This presentation focuses on the implementation of an education outreach programme as a conservation tool, during this sensitive transition period. The park is surrounded by 41 villages. An important aspect in raising awareness of what National Park status means to local communities is the development of an Education Outreach Programme where schoolchildren, community groups and local authorities are brought into their Park to witness the conservation work and see the animals. This initiative is seen as an important step in building the relationship between the wildlife sector and the local communities. It is hoped that this will change attitudes towards wildlife and habitat conservation and reduce wildlife crime. The programme is supported by Chester Zoo, Save the Rhino and Tusk.

Rhino conservation at the San Diego Wild Animal Park
What Is the International Rhino Keeper Association?
Jane Kennedy    International Rhino Keeper Association

The San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park has the most successful captive rhinoceros breeding program in the world.  To date 158 captive births representing 3 different species of rhinoceros have been born at this facility.  3 generations of southern white rhinos, 4 generations of eastern black rhinos, and 6 generations of greater one-horned Asian rhinos have been born.  With these many accomplish-ments has come knowledge to be shared with other captive rhino breeding programs. The purpose of this talk is to continue the success of the ex-situ propagation of these highly endangered species by sharing lessons learned.

International Rhino Keeper Association
The International Rhino Keeper Association is a coalition of rhino keepers and professionals committed to improving the future of all species of rhinoceros. Their goal is to make meaningful contributions to the care of in-situ and ex-situ rhinos.  This will be accomplished by sharing knowledge and experiences with other keepers, directly addressing conservation, education and captive management issues. Additionally, the IRKA sponsors a biennial workshop that brings together rhino professionals from around the world to help disseminate information.  The IRKA has also recently adopted a Keeper Development Program to help develop hand-on skills within the zoo-keeping community. This talk will focus on the goals of the IRKA and how they will be implemented.

Probable extinction of the Western Black Rhino

2006 survey in Northern Cameroon

Isabelle & Jean-François Lagrot                 Symbiose


From 25 January to 8 June 2006, the NGO Symbiose, veterinarians Isabelle and Jean-François Lagrot and their local teams patrolled the distribution area of Diceros bicornis longipes in northern Cameroon to assess the status of the last population of the western black rhino subspecies. Over 46 field patrols were organized in the area situated roughly between Faro National Park on the western border and Bouba N’Djida National Park on the eastern border, totalling over 2500 km of patrol effort. Using historical data, results of previous surveys, information from a network of villagers and cooperation with trophy-hunting guides, the fieldwork carried out during the dry season concluded that no reliable sign of rhino presence was found to attest to the survival of the western black rhino. The estimation of around 30 individuals produced by the NGO Symbiose in August 2004 was based on fake rhino tracks, which some of the trackers had made to preserve their jobs. Following this survey, the African Rhino Specialist Group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission modified the official status for Diceros bicornis longipes. Thus far classified as Critically Endangered with 5 confirmed individuals in 2001, it has now been declared Probably Extinct. Symbiose NGO continued the survey through the rainy season until the end of 2006. Despite 23 additional field patrols, no reliable sign of rhino presence was found.

EAZA Rhino Campaign

ZSL Rhino Programme in Nepal

Nick Lindsay                      Zoological Society of London

1.      EAZA Rhino Campaign
In 2006 rhinos were chosen as the subject of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Annual Campaign. Working in partnership with Save the Rhino International (SRI) EAZA raised over 600,000 euros during the 12 months of the campaign reaching millions of zoos visitors with information on rhinos, the challenges rhino face in the wild and the successes of conservation activities. The funds raised went to support a number of field conservation projects including at least one for each rhino species. Projects chosen covered a range of activities including anti-poaching work, awareness and education, wildlife crime prevention and translocations. The commitment by SRI and by those zoos and other organisations that supported the campaign was huge but the rewards were incredible enabling EAZA and SRI to contribute significant funds to field conservation for rhinos.

2.      ZSL’s Rhino Programme in Nepal
With a Darwin Initiative grant and working with several local partners the Zoological Society of London started a new rhino conservation programme in Nepal in 2007. The aim of the programme is to develop a new system for monitoring rhinos in the three national parks which will provide more accurate and up to date information on the populations. This data will then be used to develop new strategies for managing the rhinos in those areas which will include better protection, a reduction in human-rhino conflict and improved management of the habitats under threat from invasive species and encroachment.


New attempts to close down Yemen's rhino horn trade
Esmond Bradley Martin

In January and February, 2008, research carried out in southern Yemen showed that the practice of wearing daggers was not prevalent. Other cultural traits, from the north, have come to the south, such as chewing qat and taboos on alcohol. There is a greater demand in the south for consumer goods now, but there is no evidence of rhino horn being carved in the south. In the north, the big problem is still the one family who make dagger handles with new rhino horn. A public awareness campaign on the threats to rhino populations as a result of demand for daggers with rhino horn handles is showing promise. 

Developments at Lewa Downs in Kenya
Anna Merz                            Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Keynote address

Why Lewa started. The rhino situation in Kenya in 1970s. Start of Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary. Capture and monitoring of rhinos. The life of Samia. Extension of Lewa and L.W.C. Success of L.W.C. and development of North Rangelands Trust.

Introduction and news
Kees Rookmaaker                    Rhino Resource Center

A few items of rhino news. The loss of Nico J. van Strien (1946-2008). The proclamation of Way Kambas as a nature reserve. Rhino events leading to the extinction of rhinos in southern Africa in the 19th century. The rhino exhibition in Schwerin/

Back from the brink: can lessons learned save the Borneo rhinos?

Nan Schaffer & M.S. Thayaparan                  SOS Rhino

SOS Rhino is transitioning (handing over) its rhino conservation program to the Sabah government and local NGOs. When SOS Rhino arrived in Sabah in 1998, a Sumatran rhino had not been produced in captivity, no organization was focused on protecting rhinos in the forest and little attention was being spent on the Borneo rhino. SOS Rhino set out goals to address each of these issues.

Successful Breeding of The Sumatran Rhino
In 2000, experts from all over the world in captive rhino management met in Jakarta, Indonesia to develop captive breeding guidelines with the hope that these guidelines would help established programs finally have success. The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) had provided breeding centers with information on how to successfully introduce a pair of rhinos and Dr. Schaffer had informed the personnel at Cincinnati Zoo that in order to solve their abortion problem they could give progesterone.  These two pieces of information would be pivotal in the final production of offspring in 2001. The breeding facility in Way Kambas, Indonesia has adopted these same guidelines and we expect them to be successful.

Unfortunately, Schaffer’s early research on female Sumatran rhinos revealed irreversible reproductive problems in the remaining captive populations. As a result, these rhinos were unresponsive to the program improvements and treatment protocols. Only the few individuals that had recently come into captivity responded favorably. This further supported the supposition that prolonged captivity without successful breeding may induce irreversible infertility; and accordingly, new animals need to be bred immediately after entering captivity.

At this point captive breeding has become a viable option within guidelines developed and refined since 2000.  Certainly, the foundation for a breeding facility exists in Sabah, but the successful execution of these guidelines will require exceptional care by dedicated professional personnel. This program must start with known reproductively intact animals; thus, animals must be examined soon after capture.  However, if and when Sabah pursues intensive management it must continue to secure the habitats to which animals will return. Considering that none of these habitats are secure, Sabah should proceed with action immediately.

The genetically divergent nature of the Borneo rhino makes them vital to the remaining genetic health of the captive population of Sumatran rhinos. Providing a single Borneo rhino to revitalize the global gene pool is the single most important contribution Sabah can make to the recovery of this species.

Protect and Survey the Sabah Rhino Population

In 2000 when SOS Rhino placed its first Rhino Protection Units in Sabah, they were the only patrol, protection or security presence in the forest. SOS Rhino found and helped remove camps of poachers and confronted other encroachers in the forest.  Unfortunately, at the same time SOS Rhino was in the forest, protecting the Sabah rhinos, the Peninsular population was going extinct. Sabah rhinos may indeed be the last population in Malaysia. Moreover, as SOS Rhino reported in its Seminar this year, encroachment into Tabin Reserve is only getting worse.  Now every time SOS Rhino patrols go into the forest for surveys, they meet intruders. Even more disturbing is the fact that these intruders have no fear.  Instead, the prevailing attitude is Tabin Reserve is a place where anyone and everyone can go to hunt and fish. This attitude means that trespassers are everywhere in the forest and it takes a large, expensive force to protect the rhino. Unless everyone that might go into the protected forests with ill intent is made to feel that they risk their life and livelihood, protection will remain costly. There is no other effective deterrence. In fact, the successful recovery of every critically endangered species has always required the full investment of the resident government.

Malaysia must institute a strong policy and send a clear message. Wildlife Laws must be strengthened and applied publicly. Attitudes of the judicial and legal communities must be changed. The public must be convinced. If the highest levels of the Ministry deliver a message that encroachment into the forest will not be tolerated, progress can be made. If potential poachers are deterred because they know they will face severe penalties, the cost of enforcement can be reduced significantly. This message is crucial to securing rhino habitats for the future. If this message had been instituted in Peninsular Malaysia there might still be rhino populations there today. In Sabah, it is not too late.

Bring the Sumatran Rhino to National and International Prominence

When the Sabah Wildlife Department asked SOS Rhino to come and help them with rhinos in 1998 they were frustrated and exhausted. The international community had abandoned all efforts to save the Borneo rhino. The Sabah Government was disinterested and the public was totally unaware that they even had a rhino.

SOSR proceeded with a Campaign of Awareness Building by creating exhibits, giving lectures, producing public serve announcements, publishing in print and broadcast media, putting on events, taking on volunteers, conducing tours, sending out grants, and calling meetings with prominent officials in Asia and the west.  SOS Rhino promoted the Borneo rhino nationally and internationally by visiting zoos, travel associations, business societies, granting institutions, PR firms, rhino NGOs, and the governments of Taiwan, Singapore, Europe and the US. Attitudes have now changed about the significance of the Borneo rhino. To illustrate the difference, in 2000, the only local rhino article printed, was about the SOS Rhino seminar.  By contrast, in 2006, 52 national and international media outlets covered SOS Rhino’s efforts and far more focused attention on the Borneo rhino’s plight.  In 2000, SOS Rhino had a small local seminar about the rhino in one room at the University of Malaysia Sabah. Today this seminar is internationally attended and was opened last year by Sabah’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment. Awareness has increased 100-fold with great effect. DDB-PR of Malaysia came to SOS Rhino and donated their time and expertise; Honda came to WWF Malaysia and donated funds. Although SOS Rhino has created the potential for significant resources to come to Sabah for rhinos, Malaysia must cultivate and develop those donors.

SOSR goals have been accomplished and we must move on. All the attention that is finally coming to bear on the Borneo rhino and rhino conservation is very gratifying. We believe the additional 3-year commitment was critical to the success of our efforts and as a result, local and international NGOs and corporations are now actively involved. The Government has implemented a rhino conservation Task Force to develop an Action Plan for this rhino.

We are pleased that the Sabah government and NGOs will be continuing this work for the rhino with such renewed enthusiasm. SOS Rhino will be transitioning out of Sabah as of 30 June 2008. We will be working with our partners in the coming months to resolve the remaining issues and to make the change as productive as possible. Thank you to all our associates that have helped us save the last population of rhinos in Malaysia and bring this rhino back to the forefront of conservation.

Future plan for Sumatran Rhino Conservation in Sabah
Nan Schaffer & M.S. Thayaparan                SOS Rhino

Surveys and research over the past 25 years regarding the Sumatran rhino in Sabah suggest that the species risks imminent extinction. The rhino issue must be addressed within the next few years or rhinos may no longer exist in Malaysia. Efforts to increase production of rhino within Malaysia have been unsuccessful, while international efforts have begun to show results. Malaysia should take advantage of these other efforts. Poaching may still be a threat to Sabah ’s rhinos. But there may be a complicating problem. All observations and logic tell us that a small number of scattered, unknown gendered rhinos may limit breeding opportunity. This could be a significant constraint to population growth and survival.At least some of the remaining rhinos have to be brought close together to increase the chances of successful mating.

Sumatran rhinoceros workshop held in July 2007 recommends that a closely-managed rhino population be established in Sabah.  Selected rhinos from throughout Sabah will be captured and brought to a designated area (DA).  The purpose of the designated area will be to get as many of its rhinos as possible to breed. The DA will be designed and managed in light of the lessons learned from past experience and mistakes in the capture and husbandry of Sumatran rhinos. The facility will be planned for a period of five years, after which progress will be reviewed, and if necessary, changes then be made to Sabah’s rhino policy.
The Task force committee formed under the leadership of Sabah Wildlife Department with the several Government and NGO’s support. The location of the DA (Borneo Rhinoceros Conservation Center) is determined as Tabin Wildlife Reserve through several  discussion of key authorities and stakeholders.
To maximize chances of fulfilling the DA’s goal, all sources of funding will be considered, but viable sustainable financing should be established for a long-term commitment.

Selous Rhino Trust and Northern White Rhinos, Garamba N.P.

Kes Hillman Smith                           Selous Rhino Trust

Northern White Rhinos
As follow up to my previous presentation at the Rhino Mayday I should like briefly to up-date the situation on the Northern White Rhinos and the effects of war and post war on conservation.

Selous Rhino Trust
The Selous Game Reserve encompassing about 48,000 km2 is the largest World Heritage site in Africa and the second largest in the world . Until the mid 1970s it harboured a black rhino (Diceros bicornis) population of over 3,000, but they were thought to have been slaughtered to extinction during the Africa wide poaching of the late 1970s and early 80s In 1993 black rhino tracks were found by Richard Bonham, who with others, started the Rhino Project in northern Selous. The Selous Rhino Trust Project is a partnership with the Wildlife Dept of Tanzania, who second 12 rangers to it and the project field staff.

Its goal is the long term conservation of the Selous black rhinos and their ecosystem.  It has grown from a search for any sign of rhinos possible, to a programme with regular aerial coverage, enabling it to both see and identify rhinos (11 individuals have ben photographed to date) and to detect signs of illegal activities threatening not only the rhinos but the other species that share the ecosystem. The project collaborates with the Wildlife Dept in anti-poaching and in 2007 detected 18 poached elephants, 3 poached hippos, 28 recent meat poaching camps and 26 occupied fish poaching camps, leading to 29 successful follow ups by rangers or joint ground/air exercises.  

Use of websites to further conservation
Willem van Strien                    Rhino Resource Center

The Rhino Resource Center is committed to assisting research and conservation of the rhinoceros worldwide by providing scientific publications and a platform for communication. After the launch of the new site on the last May Day our visitor numbers have increased with 500%. There is however a large potential for further growth of the RRC community. Therefore a brief insight into the possibilities and features of the website will be presented to aid communication between all people and groups concerned with research and conservation of rhinos.


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