May 1st is Save the Rhino Day, and these majestic beasts are indeed in dire need of saving. The northern subspecies of the white rhinoceros is so endangered, only three known examples are left in the entire world! So let’s learn some more about rhinos and the ways in which we can save them.
Rhinoceros means “nose horn” and it’s certainly a fitting name – the most distinguishing characteristics of these creatures are the large pointed horns on their snouts. Depending on the species, a rhino can have one or two horns. The horns are not made of bone, but are actually keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails. One of the biggest threats to rhinos comes from poachers who hunt them illegally in order to sell their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.
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Rhinos are very large creatures. All five species can grow to weigh over one ton, and the white rhino is actually the third heaviest land animal alive today. Their large size, tough skin and dangerous horn mean that adult rhinos have almost no natural predators. However, these qualities provide little protection from human hunters, and unfortunately poaching of these amazing animals is on the rise in many parts of the world.
Almost all species of rhinoceros are currently endangered to some degree, with the one exception being the sourthern subspecies of the white rhino. There are over 20,000 thought to be left in the wild, while its northern counterpart is one of the most endangered animals in the world. The Indian rhino is listed as vulnerable, while the black, Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros are all critically endangered.
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What can be done to save these animals and reverse the march toward extinction? Well, there are organizations working toward this goal, most notably Save the Rhino International, whose work in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Indonesia is focused on protecting rhinos and increasing their population numbers. The World Wildlife Fund also devotes efforts to rhino conservation, as does the International Rhino Foundation. A donation to any of these organizations will help to ensure that the important work of protecting these amazing animals is allowed to continue.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: The two African rhino species, the white and black rhinos, are actually both a similar shade of grey. The origins of their common names are not known, though there are many stories. The more accurate names for them would be square-lipped (white) and hook-lipped (black) rhinoceros.