International Rhino Foundation
|Type||Rhinoceros conservation charity|
|Headquarters||Fort Worth, TX, US|
|Key people||Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director|
|Revenue||$2.3 m (FY 2005)|
The International Rhino Foundation is a Texas-based charity focused on the conservation of the five species of rhinoceros: the White Rhinoceros and Black Rhinoceros in Africa; the Indian Rhinoceros, Javan Rhinoceros and Sumatran Rhinoceros in Asia.
In the late 1980s the population of black rhinos, particularly in Zimbabwe, was dropping at an alarming rate. To help combat the decline, the International Black Rhino Foundation was founded in 1989. The IBRF worked with both in-situ conservation (protecting animals in their native habitat) and ex-situ conservation (protecting animals "off-site" such as in zoos or non-native nature reserves).
The South-central Black Rhinoceros, which lives in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Tanzania, had a population of around 9,090 in 1980, but due to a wave of illegal poaching for its horn their numbers decreased to 1,300 in 1995. Due to the efforts of conservation groups like the International Black Rhino Foundation, the population has stabilized, illegal poaching has been reduced, and the population has even been growing. The population of South-central Black Rhinoceros was around 1,650 in 2001. Nine years later, there are about 4,000 black rhinos in the wild.
In 1993, the IBRF changed its name to the International Rhino Foundation, and expanded its focus to all five species of rhinoceros. The International Rhino Foundation helps manage programs in nature and captivity and also funds research into rhinos. IRF programs in captivity focus on developing ways to help rhinos in the wild.
The International Rhino Foundation is active in several areas of rhino conservation. It hosts the Web sites for the African Rhino Specialist Group and the Asian Rhino Specialist Group[dead link] of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN.
Sumatran and Javan Rhino Protection
The Critically Endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros may be the most threatened of all land mammals on Earth. Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos may remain, primarily on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The population of Javan rhinos numbers only around 50 animals. Over the past 5 years, however, losses of Sumatran and Javan rhino have been nearly eliminated in Indonesia through intensive anti-poaching and intelligence activities by IRF’s Rhino Protection Units. The successes of these units have kept the two species from extinction and are critical for their continued population recovery. A non-viable population of Sumatran rhinos may survive in Sabah, Malaysia; however, Sumatran rhinos are likely extinct in Peninsular Malaysia. Overall, the population of Sumatran rhinos has decreased at a rate of about 50% over the past 15 years, largely from habitat encroachment, deforestation and habitat fragmentation.
In Indonesia, IRF funds Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) rigorously patrol forests to destroy snares and traps (the main made of poaching for these species) and apprehend poachers. By gathering intelligence from local communities, RPUs also proactively prevent poaching attempts before they take place. RPUs have been very effective in protecting the rhino from poachers - only five Sumatran rhinos have been lost to poachers since the inception of the program, and no Javan rhinos have been killed. By virtue of the RPUs’ consistent presence and patrolling, other species, such as Sumatran tigers and elephants also benefit, as does the ecosystem as a whole.
Seven patrol units operate in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra, one of the highest priority areas for Sumatran megafauna. Approximately 60-85 Sumatran rhino (the second largest population in the world) inhabit the Park, along with 40-50 Sumatran tigers and around 500 Asian elephants. Five patrol units operate in Way Kambas National Park, which has a resident population of 40+ Sumatran rhino (the third largest population of Sumatran rhinos) and is also the site of the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Four patrol units operate in Ujung Kulon National Park, home to the only remaining viable population of Javan rhinos in the world.
Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary
Because of the challenges and uncertainties of conserving the Sumatran rhino, the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Asian Rhino Specialist Group recommended developing a captive breeding program as part of a larger population management strategy. Rhino experts agreed that successful reproduction would require sufficiently natural conditions and large enclosures. In the early 1990s, managed propagation centers (known as “sanctuaries”) were developed in native habitat in the range states, to which some captive rhinos were repatriated. The first and still most important center is the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. The SRS encompasses 100 hectares (247 acres) for propagation, research and education, and received its first rhino in 1998. Until recently, the Sanctuary held only one pair of animals, which were not reproductively sound. The SRS is now home to five animals and is staffed by two full-time Indonesian veterinarians, ten keepers, and several administrative and support staff.
Over the years, a number of circumstantial, medical, and management problems have been addressed and overcome. As a result, within the last decade, the husbandry and captive propagation of Sumatran rhinos has passed from its infancy to its adolescence. The International Rhino Foundation has been steadfastly working to address these issues with the expertise of numerous veterinarians and reproductive biologists.
The five Sumatran rhinos living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary – Rosa, Ratu, Bina, Andalas, and a male calf, Andatu, born in 2012 – serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts; instruments for education for local communities and the general public; an ‘insurance’ population that can be used to reestablish or revitalize wild populations that have been eliminated or debilitated; an invaluable resource for basic and applied biological research; and hopefully, in the future, as sources of animals for reintroductions, once threats have been ameliorated in the wild.
In 2007, in partnership with the Assam Forest Department, WWF India, and the USFWS, the International Rhino Foundation embarked on an amibitious project, Indian Rhino Vision 2020, with the aim of increasing the population of Indian rhinos in Assam to 3,000 in at least seven protected areas by the year 2020. The first translocations, from Pabitora to Manas National Park, took place in April 2008. Animals are radio-collared and regularly monitored to gauge the success of the reintroduction process. Joint government/community patrol units regularly patrol the park to prevent poaching and encroachment and to monitor the new rhino population.
The population of black rhinos, native to Eastern and Southern Africa, is up from about 2,500 animals five years ago to at least 4,200 animals today. But Zimbabwe’s black rhino population, now the third largest in Africa, still faces serious threats. Since early 2000, at least one-third of the total area where rhino conservancies exist in southern Zimbabwe has experienced large-scale invasions as a result of land reformation - resulting in the displacement of black rhinos from their home ranges as well as their incidental and purposeful injuries and deaths. There have been more than 150 confirmed black rhino deaths since 2000. These losses would have been significantly higher, however, if it were not for IRF’s veterinary interventions which have helped to maintain a positive rate of population growth, showing that rhino conservation in Zimbabwe is not a ‘lost cause’.
IRF works primarily in the lowveld conservancies of Zimbabwe, where we collaborate with local communities to ensure the safety of the animals through monitoring and anti-poaching patrols. Our rhino operations teams regularly remove snares, provide veterinary treatment, and rescue at-risk rhinos, moving them to safer areas. Since 2002, we have translocated a total of 116 at-risk black rhinos. These translocations have reduced the number of rhinos exposed to targeted poaching and high snaring risk and there has been a gradual reduction in the number of emergency de-snaring operations required. Eighty-two of these translocated rhinos have been used to establish a new breeding population in Bubye Valley Conservancy, which has the capacity to accommodate more than 400 black rhinos. This represents one of the largest range expansion achievements made anywhere in Africa in recent years.