Zoos are a major and growing source of financial support for in situ conservation of rhinos. Captive rhinos serve as ambassadors to facilitate this role of zoos.
However, protecting rhinos in the wild can be very challenging and uncertain. Hence, viable populations in captivity are also important as ultimate reservoirs of genetic and demographic material for reinforcement or re-establishment of wild populations as need and opportunity occur. Black rhinos from zoos have already been successfully introduced to the wild at Marakele National Park in South Africa and more such introductions are in the pipeline.
Achieving viable captive populations of rhinos for their various conservation roles requires sophisticated scientific management as well as strategic coordination of the space and resource. Such management and coordination are provided by the Regional Captive Propagation Programs (RCPs) like the European Endangered Species Programme and Species Survival Plan, which use a logo with a rhino to designate all endangered species breeding programmes.
For long-term viability, captive (just like wild) populations must attain certain minimum viable population (MVP) sizes to avoid demographic and genetic problems. Hence, it is crucial for RCPs to coordinate and interact through exchange of animals (or germplasm) and expertise, so the rhinos in zoos worldwide can be managed as a metapopulation.
Toward this goal, a Global Captive Action Plan (GCAP) Workshop was conducted at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park on 30-31 May 2006. The purpose of the GCAP Workshop was to assemble the Species Coordinators, Studbook Keepers (International & Regional) and Taxon Advisory Group Chairs for rhinos from the various regions of the zoo world, along with selected technical support staff to assist with population analysis and recommendations. The last Rhino GCAP Workshop occurred at London Zoo in 1992.
International Rhino Foundation
International Zoo Programmes
Zoological Society of London