Africa | Berlin | Salzburg
Rhinoceroses – Giants in Acute Danger
Time is running out: Nearly no other mammal on the planet is so acutely threatened by extinction as the rhinoceros. The Academy has been cooperating with the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin (IZW) at the Salzburg Zoo since 2013 on a special species protection and conservation breeding project. This partnership has laid the groundwork for a network comprised of diverse organizations – with the goal of preventing the extermination of this species.
The news is alarming - since 2011, not one single Northern white rhinoceros has been seen in the wild. The last two known animals of this rhinoceros subspecies in the entire world are currently being protected around the clock by armed security guards to protect them against poachers. Gratefully, thanks to comprehensive protective measures, their Southern relatives are faring better statis-tically with an estimated 20,000 individual animals still alive. Nonetheless, they are also heavily endangered. Trade with rhinoceros horns has officially been forbidden for nearly four decades. However, because they are considered to possess healing and aphrodisiacal properties, especially in China and Vietnam, horrendous prices are still paid for the horns of these animals on the black market. For this reason, specific breeding programmes are in progress in zoos such as in Salzburg, with the goal of maintaining the species.
The Zoological Society of Frankfurt is involved in the protection and monitoring of the remaining animals of this species in the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Society trains rangers for a special unit in rhinoceros protection, provides equipment and vehicles, lends logistical support and works closely with local authorities, institutions and animal welfare organizations. The Academy assists in this endeavor. It also contributes advice and support to the NGO Kilimanjaro Animal C.R.E.W. to care for injured animals which are encountered in the wild. In 2018, for example, a rhinoceros calf was attacked together with its mother in the Ngorongoro Crater by a pride of lions. The mother fled and the wounded calf remained behind and had to be pepped up again with a special milk substitute developed by the Academy. This milk powder also contributes to the preservation of the species.
Meanwhile, the Academy has continued its unique species protection and conservation project for rhinos at the Salzburg Zoo. Initiated already in 2013 when Academy Board Member Prof. Dr. Henning Wiesner was asked by Salzburg Zoo Director Sabine Grebner to provide scientific, zoological and veterinary advice based on his decades of practical experience as a zoo veterinarian and head of Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. This also involved dealing with the issue of the lack of young Southern white rhinoceroses. Bull Athos showed no interest whatsoever in his conspecifics.
Wiesner advised artificial insemination and cooperation with the internationally renowned Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wild Animal Research (IZW) in Berlin, changed feeding and husbandry practices and prescribed special phytotherapy to stimulate the male and female gonads. With success: In this way the Salzburg Zoo got two calves, which have developed wonderfully and are now expected to provide for their offspring in another zoo.
In December 2017, the rhinoceros cows at the Salzburg Zoo, Yeti and Tamu, could once again be inseminated, however it turned out in 2018 that they were unfortunately not pregnant. But this is no reason to give up. Efforts at the Salzburg Zoo to produce rhinoceros offspring are being further pursued in 2019. The Academy will continue to expand such conservation breeding programmes of this greatly endangered species.
Zoo Director Sabine Grebner is excited about the cooperation with the Academy for Zoo and Wildlife Protection:
“The protection and conservation breeding of rhinoceroses is essential for both of us. Highlights of the cooperation up till now, thanks to the support of the IZW reproduction specialists, has been the successful artificial insemination of our two rhinoceros cows Tamu and Yeti with the semen of our white rhinoceros bull Athos. Two healthy male rhinoceros calves were born in 2015 and have been living since the summer of 2018 in a bachelor group in another zoo of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. We are again working to produce pregnancies in both of our rhinoceros cows. The Academy is assisting us in the appropriate feeding and phytotherapy for the optimal preparation of the artificial insemination of two females.”