The recent killing of another innocent and extremely rare Javan rhino by poachers prompted me to dig deeper into the Rhino conservation realm, and interview Rishja Larson, a rhino conservationist and activist who founded Saving Rhinos.
Her organization is a public awareness program focused on bringing attention to the illegal rhino horn trade and rhino conservation: “We develop and publish educational content about rhinos and create communication materials for use in classrooms and shared via social media. We also work behind the scenes to provide research and data upon request.”
If you are interested in helping out, please visit her site.
What sparked your interest in rhino conservation?
I have always been fascinated by rhinos – and appalled by the senseless slaughter. The alarmingly low numbers of the Javan rhino made me realize these animals do not have the gift of time so I launched the Saving Rhinos program.
I think the public needs to be aware of the fact that China and Vietnam are now the major end-use markets for illegal rhino horn, where it is considered a “remedy” for common conditions, such as fever or acne. And apparently a ridiculous rumor started up recently in Vietnam that rhino horn cures cancer – of course, that is complete nonsense. It’s important to note that scientific analysis has proven rhino horn has no medicinal effect on humans. Yet rhino horn is still manufactured into “medicines” (mainly by Chinese pharmaceutical companies), then marketed and sold openly in southeast and east Asia.
Why are there so few Javan rhinos left, and why are the few in Vietnam being killed?
In addition to being killed for their horn (the primary danger faced by all rhino species), Javan rhinos in Vietnam have also been subjected to extensive habitat loss. This “triple threat” includes the use of agent orange during the Vietnam war; many areas have never grown back. Secondly, the rhino’s forest habitat continues to be exploited by human settlements that are encroaching on Cat Tien National Park; resettlement has yet to be done. And then, there are the illegal logging activities which have pushed the rhinos into undesirable regions. Plans to build a power plant less than two miles from the Javan rhino habitat have been approved by the Lam Dong administration. An estimated 1,000 tons of explosives will be used to clear forested areas near the rhino reserve.
Would it be possible to capture them and take them to places where they can’t be killed by poachers?
Moving Javan rhinos to a neighboring habitat is one thing, but rounding them up and shipping to another continent (unnatural habitat) is another matter entirely. There is probably not enough known about this species to accomplish an ambitious relocation program, and the risk of losing any animals is far too great.
Is it inevitable that the few in Vietnam will be killed by poachers and none will remain there?
I do not believe it is inevitable. This Javan rhino subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) is a survivor, and we mustn’t give up hope. There are hardworking conservationists in Vietnam and a new generation of young people who are eager to support such efforts. I am hopeful that education and an interest in wildlife will shape the future management of Vietnam’s rich natural resources.
How many Javan rhinos are left in Indonesia?
It is estimated there are fewer than 60 Javan rhinos left in Ujung Kulon National Park.
Are there any efforts to collect DNA samples and keep them in frozen storage so that one day they might be grown in captivity?
DNA samples were taken from the recently found Javan rhino carcass; however, I don’t know what will become of the material after it is compared to the dung samples collected from the latest field survey.
How many rhinos are there currently?
The total number of all rhino species combined is less than 25,000.
Where do you get your information about what is happening with rhinos abroad?
I am really fortunate to have a tight network of friends and colleagues “on the ground” around the world. These connections would not have been possible to make before the Internet and social media, and the same goes for accessing global news and reports from rhino range states. I am also known for tirelessly scouring lengthy research reports in order to communicate the key points to a wider audience.
How does your organization do fund raising and how do the funds get matched to conservation of rhinos?
Saving Rhinos focuses primarily on raising public awareness and distributing educational content. We do sell rhino t-shirts online, and the proceeds are contributed to our partner project in Nepal (“Partnership for Rhino Conservation, Nepal”). PARC/Nepal is a grassroots organization that raises conservation awareness through education, targeting the community around Chitwan National Park – home of the greater one-horned rhino.
Other Conservation Orgs:
Image Credit: CharlesSF