/ ©: WWF

Did you know?

Knowledge is power.
The more we know about rhinos, the better we can work to protect them and their future.

Our friends on the WWF Facebook page asked us many great questions about these beautiful animals, so we put them to our expert Dr. Joseph Okori, Rhino Programme Manager and a wildlife vet.

Here Dr. Okori answers a selection of your questions:

THE EXPERT

 / ©: WWF
Dr. Joseph Okori

#1 - How does a rhino react to fear?

Asked by Andio Sta Romana Angeles
Black rhinos are very nervous in temperament and can be quite aggressive and would react by attacking the threat, even a poacher. I’ve had cases where I’ve gone to dart black rhino and I’ve been attacked.

White rhino are more gregarious, more calm. They respond to threats by just running away. They run away, but the problem with them is that they run to a safe distance and stop, they don’t run away forever. This kind of behavior is one of the reasons why they get poached, also they like to stay in open grasslands.

Black rhino after attacking, if they have to retreat, they retreat into deep bushes and they can ambush you.


 

#2 - Why do rhinos have a difficult time reproducing?

Asked by Rahmayani Ramadhina
Rhinos have a very specific habitat where they would like to give birth. Black rhino in particular prefer shrubby, closed up areas and the environment has changed quite a lot recently. Another factor is the male-female ratio. Rhinos seem to be most receptive when they have a certain number of males around them.
 / ©: Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

#3 - What is the need to move rhinos from their original homes?

Asked by Rob Stultz
The reason we do translocations is to ensure that rhinos continue to reproduce. We remove rhinos from one place, where they have reached their maximum number, and put them in new areas where they are more comfortable. When rhinos in one area reach a critical number, which we call the maximum carrying capacity, they start to get aggressive fighting with one another because of lack of space. Instead of seeing an increase they start to decline. When you put them in new areas the new population is then able to breed.

We move them in groups of 20 because we have found that that is the minimum number for successful breeding. And the best ratio is about ¾ female and the other ¼ being male. The second reason to move rhinos is to get them to safer habitats where they can be better protected. The third reason is when there are too many males in one area, so we move some to maintain a stable breeding balance.
 / ©: Michael Raimondo / WWF
Black rhino being transported by helicopter to an awaiting land vehicle. The helicopter trip lasts less than 10 minutes and enables a darted rhino to be removed from difficult and dangerous terrain. The sleeping animals suffer no ill effect.
© Michael Raimondo / WWF

#4 - What are the risks of dehorning?

Asked by Lilian Rohrberg and Cathy Martin
There is about a 5% chance when you sedate a rhino that the animal dies due to the sedative. You cannot know if the rhino has underlying medical condition that could cause it to succomb. There are also risks in that if the dehorning is not done professionally the rhino can get infected. In many cases those doing dehorning are vets so the risks are very low.

With dehorning the horns usually grow back at about 3-4 inches every year, which means you are looking at total regrowth every 3-4 years, so you have to dehorn again and again. It becomes expensive and increases the risk of death from frequent exposure to sedation. There are also too many rhinos, in a place like Kruger for example with 10,000, to do repeated sedation and dehorning.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
A black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Zimbabwe.
© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey

#5 - What about dying the rhino horns?

Asked by Sharron Piggot and Jayne Taylor
Generally dying rhino horn by infusion does not pose a risk to the animal because the dye is inert, like that used to stain banknotes. So there is no risk to the rhino when properly infused. The dye can help in making the horn less palatable for consumption because the internal horn is all stained pink. It can also help in identification in rhino horn, especially for trophies.

Unfortunately you have to sedate the rhino, so there are some risks. The risk from sedation is also heightened due to the time the rhino is down for the process. The whole process takes 40 mins to 1 hour, while for dehorning can be done in less than 30 minutes. The longer the rhino is down, the greater the risk to its health.
 / ©: WWF-US / Deborah Gainer
Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) in Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.
© WWF-US / Deborah Gainer

#6 - At what population do you consider rhinos functionally extinct? How close are we?

Asked by David Vedder
History in South Africa has shown that rhinos can recover from a very small population. From a group of only 20-50 white rhinos, South Africa has been able to raise over 18,000. For there to be a minimum viable number of rhino, we need at least 20 rhino with a correct male to female sex ratio, but preferably 50.

Right now when we establish new rhino groups we use groups of 20, which we consider to be a viable rhino group because we do not want extinction to happen. That’s why we promote an aggressive rhino expansion programme.
 / ©: Mauri Rautkari / WWF-Canon
Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
© Mauri Rautkari / WWF-Canon

#7 - What effect would the total removal of rhinos have on the local ecosystems?

Asked by Kourtney Wismont
One rhino should have at least an area of 2 sq km, so when protecting the rhino you protect that whole ecosystem and all the resources in it. When removing rhinos you see the overall investment in the ecosystem decline, which results in less protection and less human involvement. A lot of people rely on the Big 5, so they get communities to be engaged in conservation.
Black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater section of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania  / ©: WWF-Canon / John E. NEWBY
Black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater section of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
© WWF-Canon / John E. NEWBY

#8 - Is there any way to regenerate lost horns?

Asked by Sumit Quarantino Iglesias
When rhinos are dehorned professionally the horn is taken above the growth layer of the skin. Rhino horn is like a fingernail, you can cut it or trim it without stopping continued growth. But when poachers take horns they uproot the entire horn from its base under the skin in the bone. They totally deface the rhino leaving no chance of regrowth or recovery of the rhino. The rhino will eventually succomb to infection, and death usually results.
 / ©: AP
More than 200 rhinos had been slaughtered in South Africa since the start of the year
© AP

#9 - How many poachers have been convicted in the last two years? What are the official penalties?

Asked by Ingrid Ringnes
In the last two years we have had over 430 rhino poaching arrests. We’ve had an increase in the number of convictions. Importantly, we have seen over 25 high level convictions of which people have been put behind bars for between five and 29 years. Most of these have been foreign nationals.

#10 - In the end, how do you educate poachers?

Asked by Sue Mordin
I think we can educate convicted poachers by providing awareness material that talks about the sustainable management of wildlife assets, the implications of their action and how detrimental it could be to future generations, including their children.

We can also educate them by developing practical programs that address attitude and behavior change. We could take them to places like Namibia where communities are actively involved in rhino conservation to see the long term benefits rather than the short term gain. To deter people from becoming poachers we need to address community needs.

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