Rhino Mayday 2012

Image of Save the Rhino staff drinking rhino's energy drink.

We had a fantastic day yesterday at Rhino Mayday 2012, which was hosted by the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College, London. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a round up of each of the presentations we heard on the day. Don’t forget to continue the debate and leave your comments below.


Mary Rice, Executive Director and Head of the Elephant Campaign, Environmental Investigation Agency
Protecting the Environment with Intelligence

Two controlled sales of ivory stockpiles have failed to stem the flow of illegal ivory to East Asia, and specifically to China. In fact, if anything, the legal sales appear to have stimulated demand and consequently contributed to an increase in illegal ivory flows and the poaching of elephants. In terms of China, investigations by EIA indicate that the latest legal sale in 2008 has clearly failed to either reduce the price of ivory or curb illegal trade. This failure should be recognised and not repeated. The biggest threat to elephants is now the regulated domestic market. Opening up trade hasn’t worked for elephants, and it won’t work for rhinos either.

What we learned on the day:

  • 2011 was the worst year for elephant poaching
  • In November 2008, some African countries were allowed to sell stockpiles of ivory – it was meant to flood the market and therefore reduce demand. Yet EIA investigations have shown that ivory traders (both legal and illegal) believed that up to 90% of ivory on the marketplace came from illegal sources. Demand soared, and ivory seizures continue to rise
  • Therefore legalising the trade does not stop poaching
  • The only way it could work is with stringent controls – but countries like China have shown they have not been able to do this.
  • The legal market acted as a smokescreen for illegal trade. Demand increased. The more that consumers saw ivory, the more they wanted it
  • There are tiger farms across China, but poaching still goes on – often because there is the belief that the wild product is more potent

Gary Minns, President, The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine
The use of rhino horn within Chinese Herbal Medicine and its alternatives

The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) was set up in 1987 to regulate the practice of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in the UK and is working towards the statutory regulation of herbalists. The RCHM strongly condemns the illegal trade in rhino horn and other endangered species and has a strict policy prohibiting the use of any type of endangered species by any of its 450 members. Gary Minns, RCHM President, and himself a practitioner of acupuncture and CHM presented information on the use of rhino horn within the CHM tradition, discussed historic and present day demand and outlined herbal substitutes that are available for rhino horn.

What we learned on the day:

  • The UK government has announced that there will be state regulation of herbal medicine, which is likely to come into force around 2013
  • RCHM condemns the illegal trade and is also against legal trade because once the system is open, there is no way of telling what is legal and illegal. They do not consider rhino horn to be medicine
  • Many countries still use rhino horn because of the traditional use. However, this is outdated and should no longer be necessary
  • In the UK it is illegal for herbalists to use anything that is not a plant source
  • In 1993, rhino horn was removed from pharmacopoeia in China, meaning that it is also illegal to use it there
  • Use can date back to around 3000BC (verified to 300 BC) in a textbook which says amongst other things that it “eliminates evil” – which shows how things have evolved. This text also suggested using mercury as a treatment! This shows that just because a medicine was traditionally used, it doesn’t automatically mean it is applicable now
  • Rhino horn has a recent reputation for curing cancer – but there is no trace traditionally that this has been used
  • Some use water buffalo horn as a substitute and there are many herbal alternatives

Jennie Cook, Senior Keeper, Colchester Zoo
White Rhino Training and Foot Care At
Colchester Zoo

Colchester Zoo has a current herd of 5(1.3.1) white rhino that inhabit a mixed paddock with reticulated giraffe, damara zebra, ostrich, greater kudu and a small flock of African crowned crane. Due to the nature of the enclosure at the zoo, keepers have daily close contact with the rhino and as a result have built up an excellent working relationship with the herd. Target training is a valuable husbandry tool and enrichment technique and was introduced to all individuals of the herd in 2008. It is used to move the animals between various areas within the indoor enclosure and between the house and paddock. It has also proved very helpful as the basis for introducing the rhino to new situations and training events, for example crush training.

The oldest member of the herd, in her forties, is a female named Flossy. A few years ago she developed hoof rot in one of her back feet which, considering her age, would have had a significant negative impact on her welfare. So it was down to the team of six keepers on the section to tackle the problem of how to treat the issue. The basic target training she had already mastered was used to position her in such a way that the keepers administer hoof care with a minimum of risk to Flossy or themselves. Flossy now goes through a daily routine of lifting each of her back feet for treatment before placing it in a foot bath of salt water and iodine. We also take fortnightly blood samples from her ear and can administer injections. Her welfare has improved dramatically since this programme started and she is once again an active member of the herd.

What we learned on the day:

  • The recent case of a rhino horn that had been taken from an abattoir from a Colchester zoo rhino brought it home that the zoo was a potential easy target for those seeking to illegally trade in rhino horn
  • The zoo put in an alarm and camera system which links to the curator and the police
  • There were teething problems as a giraffe licking the sensor and a rhino spraying it set it off at first
  • The talk then moved on to discuss the herd at the zoo. Zamba was born in October 2008 through artificial insemination, which was a fantastic success
  • The zoo are involved in research into ways to reduce hoof problems – as rhinos living longer in zoos often get problems later in life
  • Colchester zoo are trying to train rhinos to voluntarily give blood samples from the ear so they don’t have to sedate them every time they need to take blood. They have been able to take samples from Emily and Otto have. There are hopes that Emily will get pregnant, so it is important they are able to do this to better monitor her

Horst Lubnow, SRI Member, Lengerich, Germany
Pobitora, Assam

Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) is a tiny reserve for the Greater Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros about 50 km by car from Guwahati, the largest city in Assam and the seat of the Government of Assam. According to the latest rhino census from March 2012 93 rhinos are living here, showing the highest density of rhinos in Asia. As this number of rhinos may be close to the carrying capacity, rhinos from PWS have already been translocated under Indian Rhino Vision 2020 to set up new viable rhino populations (Manas N.P.). Beyond this, PWS is an important tourist destination for private tourists as well as for government officials and their guests of state. On their frequent, quite popular short trips from Guwahati these last-mentioned visitors not only can watch rhinos but also can be introduced to all aspects of rhino conservation easily and at first hand. That may be useful for conservation efforts in Assam on the whole, and particularly may help solving problems like cattle grazing or collecting of firewood within the boundaries of the sanctuary, while poaching is a minor problem at present.

What we learned on the day:

  • Greater one horned rhinos are the flagship species for the reserve
  • In 1971 there were only 8 rhinos and now in 2012, numbers have grown to nearly 100 and some worry that numbers are over the carrying capacity, which has lead to an increase in human wildlife conflict as rhinos stray outside the park
  • Research on how many rhinos the park can hold is being carried out
  • There were no illegally killed rhinos between 2005 and 2010. In 2011, there were 2 incidents
  • Pobitora is a successful in situ breeding ground for Greater one-horned rhinos

Steve and Ann Toon, Photojournalists
Project: African Rhino

When wildlife photojournalists Ann and Steve Toon published a book on rhinos ten years ago, the future looked positive for the African species. Now that’s all changed, prompting the couple to return to the subject with a new multimedia project to raise awareness of rhino conservation. Project African Rhino will spotlight some of the successful conservation initiatives and scientific developments taking place in the face of current threats, including the poaching crisis. It will highlight key issues through press articles, a blog and social media, culminating in a book and exhibition. Ann and Steve introduce the project and share their experiences photographing rhinos for more than a decade.

What we learned on the day:

  • Rhinos are a cash asset to a lot of people – they are valuable, but expensive to keep. Some can no longer afford to keep them secure
  • Project African Rhino is looking to bring people and information together
  • Check out the new blog for the project http://africanrhino.org/about/

Nevin Hunter, Head of Unit, UK National Wildlife Crime Unit
Help us kill the illegal trade – tell us what you know or hear

Nevin Hunter is the recently appointed Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. He has over 20 years experience as a Police Wildlife Crime Officer and was until recently seconded as the Head of Compliance at the UK CITES Management Authority.

What we learned on the day:

  • An increase in requests for export permits coincided with the increase in poaching incidents
  • Rhino horn is retailed through auction houses – the value of the horn is based on weight, showing that it’s nothing to do with the age of the piece
  • Auction houses make 27% on sales of rhino horn. One 8.15kg horn sold for £61,000, (auctioneer made £16,775 profit)
  • Now there are stricter measures in the UK for exports, which they are taking to Europe
  • There have been approx 65 museum attacks across the EU. The WCU have alerted museums and zoos to the threats and made sure Interpol are informed.
  • The concern is that antique rhino horn sources are going to dry up. What will they go to next? Ivory in museums?
  • If you know or see anything, contact Crimestoppers or ukwildlifecrime@nwcu.pnn.police.uk – this can be done anonymously

Nadia Alnaimi, Final Year Vet Student, Cambridge University
University Veterinary Management of Rhinos in the Field

Treating rhinos in the field presents many challenges. Even simple preventative measures, such as microchipping and DNA sampling, require a general anaesthetic that can be risky to a healthy rhino. Unfortunately, poachers are now using the same anaesthetic drugs that vets use to dart rhinos, rather than shooting to kill. This means that rhinos are being found alive with horrific facial injuries and suffering from the complications of a prolonged, uncontrolled anaesthetic. Some dedicated vets in South Africa are attempting to treat these animals.

What we learned on the day:

  • Poachers are getting hold of veterinary drugs to tranquilise rhinos rather than shoot to kill. This means that more rhinos are being found alive
  • Case studies: Geza – was put down because leg muscles had started to die from having been paralyzed by drugs, lying on its side for too long, rather than because of facial injuries
  • Themba – after being poached, was limping on the left leg. Vets injected antibiotics and multivitamins and scraped away the dead tissue on the legs. This was extensive after the rhino had lain on it for too long. Themba ended up drowning in a water hole as too weak to get out
  • Thandi – wasn’t lying on legs as long. Treated with anaesthetic every 1-2 weeks, scrape wound. Made sure flies didn’t lay eggs by covering in the wound in tar. Thandi is doing well – there are updates on Facebook.

6 thoughts on “Rhino Mayday 2012

  1. This was an incredibly informative and interesting day with a good variety of speakers and subjects. Attending this event really makes me feel involved. The Grant Museum was also fascinating and I look forward to next years Rhino Mayday.

  2. I’m glad that awareness is increasing thanks to the efforts of groups such as yours. I despair at how change can be brought about in Asia where the desire for rhino horn is still strong, particularly in Vietnam.

  3. Looks like it was a very full and informative day. I like the variety of speakers that you had during the day.

    Glad it all went well

  4. Wish you did some talks up north. Manchester Way or even Scotland. To get more people aware of whats happening to these poor animals 🙁 i would love to attend but its to far.

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