Rhino Mayday 2013

With a diverse line up of speakers from all over the world, this year’s Rhino Mayday event was certainly one of the most informative and interesting so far. From the challenges of expanding rhino range habitat in Kenya, to the conspiracy in the UK rhino horn antiques trade, to the plight of the Sumatran rhino, the day provided an opportunity to learn more about rhinos and debate some of the controversial topics surrounding the species.

We would like to say a big thank you to all of this year’s speakers, those of you who attended the event, and the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology for kindly hosting the day. We would love to hear any feedback you had on Rhino Mayday – please comment at the bottom of the page.

Please see below for a summary of the speaker’s presentations.

This year’s Rhino Mayday 2013 organised by SRI and hosted by the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London on May the 1st had an eclectic selection of speakers. The sun was even shining which meant that all the discussions and dates could be continued outside in the courtyard. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a round up of each of the presentations we heard on the day. If you weren’t there on the day it would be great to get your thoughts and comments on any of the topics discussed.

Michael Dyer – Managing Director, Borana Conservancy, Kenya

Credit: Bush and Beyond

Michael gave an informative first hand account from the field, describing the challenges of establishing new habitat for rhino in the Borana Conservancy, Kenya. The adjacent Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has now reached ecological capacity for its rhino, and Borana provides the perfectly placed solution for the progressive expansion of rhinos habitat. But with the increasing risk of poaching, the cost of looking after rhinos is becoming ever more expensive and challenging. Borana has been busy preparing for its new rhino population by training its field staff, engaging with the surrounding communities and building appropriate fencing and ranger posts.

What we learned on the day:

  • Kenyan Wildlife Services has a strategy to expand black rhino populations to reach 2000
  • Private conservancies represent 49% of the land used to home black rhinos in Kenya
  • Lewa conservancy started off with 12 rhinos and has successfully bred this population of rhinos so that now they are at maximum carrying capacity
  • Lewa is surrounded by agriculture and human settlements except on its border with Borana, with so little land available and suitable for the rhinos to expand into places like Borana are essential if rhino numbers are to expand.
  • Security is essential to protecting rhinos and this is incredibly expensive with people being the most expensive aspect
  • It is not possible to make fences ‘people proof’ as these often get destroyed by elephants or people manage to cut their way through them, smaller fences help manage where the rhinos can go
  • The cost to manage the area is currently $18 per acre, this would increase to $28 per acre when rhinos are introduced
  • No rhinos will be put into Borana until they can ensure the security issues in the area are resolved

Borana is one of the programmes that SRI support and so more can be read about the programme here.

Joanne Scofield – Director, Flight of the Rhino BBC Natural World


Joanne gave a unique insight into the role of a documentary producer, filming her most challenging animal so far – the elusive and dangerous black rhino. She presented clips from the recent ‘Flight of the rhino documentary’ which included heartbreaking footage of a poached rhino and her orphaned calf. Jo explained the challenges of deciding how much shocking imagery to include in the documentary and getting the balance between factual information and a story that would catch the audiences’ attention.

Joanne was the producer for the captivating documentary ‘Flight of the rhino’, which was aired in the UK on Saturday 16th February 2013 at 8.30pm on BBC2. You can find out more about the documentary by clicking here.

What we learned on the day:

  • It was difficult at first to get people to agree to be in the documentary initially as people were very nervous at opening up their doors and to talk about rhino poaching
  • During Jo’s time filming, there were several incidents of poaching and it seemed relentless
  • Jo wasn’t allowed to film the scene of the poached rhinos and so this was done by the local authorities and she was allowed to use the footage
  • There is always a difficult decision for producers to decide how much shocking imagery to include in the documentary and getting the balance between factual information and a story that would catch the audiences’ attention. She had to remove a scene of a foetus that had been inside one of the poached rhinos
  • Jo explained how complex the rhino translocations are and how dedicated the whole team involved are. They were also incredibly patient at having a film crew getting in the way.
  • Jo also explained that TV executives are nervous and resistant at commissioning wildlife documentaries like the Flight of the Rhino and it can often take the passion of the producers pushing films like this through

Flight of the rhino was filmed in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, you can read more about the programme that SRI supports here.

Kate Oliver and Paul Bamford – Education Officers, Discovery and Learning Centre, ZSL

Kate and Paul

Kate and Paul are fresh from their most recent visit to North Luangwa, Zambia, where they have provided an incredibly important role in the redevelopment of North Luangwa’s Environmental Education programme. They talked us through the many aspects of the programme – named Lolesha Luangwa (Look After Luangwa), including an Education Officer visiting every school, the annual Conservation Celebration Day and the development of a new school environmental activity book. They also talked about how the programme will be monitored and evaluated.

What we learned on the day:

  • Environment education should be used to reach a conservation goal
  • Social engagement has been used in many other areas when dealing with difficult social issues but is still quite new to conservation
  • The team explained about NLCP conservation programme and the work they do with the black rhinos which you can read more about here
  • The new education programme is called Lolesha Luangwa which means Look After Luangwa
  • The overall aim of ZSL’s involvement on the project was to implement a monitoring and evaluation system, to improve the support to the teachers and to take the lessons beyond just learning facts and turn it into changing attitudes and behaviour.
  • The improvements included
    • Shorter teacher guides so they were more usable
    • More guidance materials for teachers
    • Activity books for the children to complete
    • Teacher training workshops to take the teachers through the curriculum
  • The next steps of the programme are to Evaluate Evaluate Evaluate!

North Luangwa’s Environmental Education programme is one of the programmes that SRI supports, more can be read about the programme here.

Abigail Day – Member of the Safari Club International


Abigail gave an informative update on the most recent CITES meeting (CoP16) in Bangkok on March 2013. She explained the role of CITES in monitoring the trade in endangered species, and the importance of ensuring that the trade in live rhinos and trophy mounts is adequately monitored. Several hot topics arose for at the meeting, including a proposal by Kenya to implement a zero quota on hunting trophies.  

What we learned on the day:

  • Abigail explained that 178 countries are signed up to CITES, it designed to regulate cross border trade to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
  • The IUCN input into the COP16 meeting
  • Generally at these events NGOs have to sit at the back and any input from them has to happen in the corridors
  • CITES allows live sales of white rhino and trophy hunting. It also allows 6 black rhinos to be hunted for trophies in South Africa and Namibia
  • Kenya proposed to implement a zero quota on hunting trophies until COP18 to prevent pseudo hunting; SA and Kenya have opposing views on trophy hunting.
  • 25% of rhinos in SA are on private land and keeping rhinos secure is expensive, one argument for trophy hunting is that it brings income to help protect rhinos and is an incentive to keep expanding rhino populations. There is a concern if trophy hunting was to stop then landowners would sell off their rhinos. Kenya redrew its proposal.
  • Actions that were agreed were:
    • Better enforcement
    • Asset forfeiture for people convicted of rhino poaching/trade
    • Implementation of DNA analysis
    • Countries to look at domestic trade
    • Demand reduction strategies were discussed
    • Vietnam and Mozambique have several actions to achieve by the end of the year
  • South Africa made it clear it would like to consider legal trade in rhino horn at the next COP18 meeting.

Karen Rennie – Antiques Dealer, Rennie’s Seaside Modern

Libation cup

Karen has had no involvement in conservation but has been a keen supporter over the years. Karen has worked in two of the UK’s leading auction houses and brought a wealth of knowledge on the relatively unknown subject of the rhino horn antiques trade in the UK. She gave examples of recently traded antique rhino products and expressed her concern over the lack of control and monitoring of antiques made from rhino horn. With rhino horn products fetching rapidly higher prices at auction, is there a connection with the current rhino poaching crisis?

What we learned on the day:

  • During the 1980-90s Karen very rarely saw any worked up rhino horn pieces in the auction world
  • There is no regulatory body around the antique auction houses and the current law is that rhino horn that is pre1947 and is part of a family collection, is a worked piece of art or is for research can be sold. There is almost no way to tell the age of a rhino horn except by carbon dating. Traffickers can easily overcome these regulations.
  • Karen and her husband started to recognise that more and more rhino horns were coming into auctions and being sold. She believes most of these are illegal horns that have been poached recently. The UK has clearly become a place for traffickers to legalise the pieces of rhino horn
  • In August 2010 a single piece was sold for £106,000, this is not a comparable price to other piece of art that have been worked up. Some pieces have very dubious artistic merit and it is clear some auctioneers don’t ask any questions
  • Libation cups have even been seen being sold in sporting catalogues
  • Some of the worst cases are, Tennants auctioneers in Yorkshire and Mallam’s auctioneers of Oxford but there are many more. Sotheby’s and Christies have voluntarily refused to sell rhino horn through their auctions
  • Karen and her team report to Defra and the Wildlife Crime Unit but provincial auctions can turn around objects so fast it is almost impossible for the departments to have time to investigate
  • Several antique houses are to open up offices in Hong Kong and China which will just make the illegal trade through these houses even easier

John Payne – Executive Director, Borneo Rhino Alliance

Credit Dedi Candra

John gave a fascinating talk on the severely endangered Sumatran rhino which now numbers less than 100 individuals. His presentation included his theories on why the Sumatran rhino population has declined to such low numbers, including reproductive peculiarities of the species, the inability of governments to make bold decisions, and the Allee effect, which is experienced when animal populations decline to such low numbers, and death rate exceeds birth rate even in the absence of poaching.

What we learned on the day

  • There are only 3, very small populations of wild Sumatran rhinos with evidence of breeding; they live in tropical forests where visibility can be 10m. There is an average of 3,000mm (120 inches) rain per year. Remaining Rhino habitat is general in areas where there is an incline of 15 degrees or more, difficult for surveys and difficult for any kind of fencing.
  • The introduction of chainsaws and bull dozers in the 1950s allowed logging and clearance of the previously remote tropical rain forests and allowed the human populations, and big business, to increase extremely fast
  • 1950s there were over 1,000 Sumatran rhinos, 1980s there were several hundred, 2013 there are probably less than 100
  • Governments are not good at recognising and responding quickly to conservation problems
  • Sumatran rhinos struggle to keep cool in humid tropical rainforests, and to get enough nutrition from the natural food of rainforest leaves, as it is full of fibre, tannin and alkaloids
  • IIn 1984 IUCN brokered a global agreement to save the species and subsequently 40 rhinos were captured for breeding in zoos and local facilities. Most of these rhinos died without breeding, and only 2 remain, both infertile due to old age. Following post-2000 captures and four captive births, There are now 10 rhinos in captivity.
  • The focus recently has been to have small, fenced protected areas for the rhinos with natural habitat and natural food. The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia is the key example of this.
  • The main issues are:
    • How to resolve differing opinions about exactly how to save the species
    • Inability of governments to make bold decisions
    • Reproductive difficulties – natural breeding rate remains too low, deaths are still exceeding births
  • In the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit held in Singapore in early April 2013, the remaining decision of management is still to be decided:
    • More of the same current work (but that is not enough)
    • Concentrate all of the rhinos in one big enclosure under natural habitat
    • Advanced reproductive technology in closely managed facilities

    SRI supports the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, one of the last populations of Sumantran rhinos. Click here to read more about the programme.

    Cathy Dean – Director, Save the Rhino International  

    Greater one-horned rhino, Kaziranga National Park, India

    Our very own director Cathy Dean gave a presentation on the Greater one-horned and Javan rhino species, two species that generally people know less about.

    What we learned on the day

    • Kaziranga national park is bursting at the seems and has reached its maximum carrying capacity for rhinos
    • Rhinos have been killed in road accidents and more recently poaching incidents
    • The aim of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 is to increase the population of Greater one-horned rhinos from 2000 to 3000. This is being done by translocations into new protected areas including Manas
    • Manas had 20 rhinos translocated into the park and SRI and Chester zoo bought a monitoring vehicle for the programme. Unfortunately 4 animals have been poached recently and so it has been decided to capture the remaining animals until it is decided what can be done to ensure their safety.
    • There are only around 35 Javan rhinos and they are all in one population and none are in captivity
    • Java is the most densely populated island in the world
    • The Javan rhino is incredibly elusive
    • There is a plan to construct a fence to prevent cattle encroaching on the area that the rhinos live in. They also need to deal with the invasive plant species in the area. The long term plan is to create a separate population.

    SRI supports Rhino Vision 2020, click here to read more about the project.

    John Ironmonger – Novelist and rhino enthusiast

    J Ironmonger 3

    With fewer than 35 Javan rhinos remaining, the chances of spotting one is pretty low, but this didn’t deter John and his wife Sue from setting out on an adventure in search of the Sumatran and Javan rhinos. John gave a fascinating account of their trip, which as tourists on a boat in the remote Javan rainforest brought them face to face (well almost) with Javan rhino and calf. Now John and Sue want to spread the word about the importance of tourism in Java and Indonesia.

  • SRI supports the Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area, click here to read more about the project.

4 thoughts on “Rhino Mayday 2013

  1. Sorry, I had to give the day of presentations a miss this year. Out of character, but not up to travelling right now. Next year for sure again as the SRI Mayday is always a pleasure to be part of.

  2. Wonderful and enjoyable day as always. very interesting and diverse speakers. I’m already looking forward to next years event. Well done to the whole team for organising it.

  3. Hi Matt
    It was a shame that you couldn’t come down but thank you so much for your kind donation. Hopefully the notes from the day help give you a flavour of the presentations.

  4. Hi
    Couldn’t spare the time to come down to Rhino Mayday (as usual), but I’m just about to ‘donate’ my admission anyway!
    Best wishes

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