Sunday, 9 August 2015

   Ceratotherium simum might be the boldest of the big animals. It can be calm in the presence of a lion (photo) and confrontational with an elephant (photo.) When a white rhino calf playfully chases adult wildebeest, it reveals that its species presents a mortal danger to any grass-eater that isn't fleet-footed: video.
   White rhino make a variety of vocalizations which indicate that they are intelligent, social creatures. Their communal dung-piles are called middens (wildact) and dominant bulls go on fast patrols to leave their odour in the middens. Domestic animals need to avoid bulls altogether, being too slow on their feet to risk a close encounter.
   Females also defend territory when food is not abundant and they'll drive youngsters away, who then stick together in small groups (rhinoworlds.)
   As a formidable herbivore that defends a well-marked territory, the white rhino must have been a problem animal for the first herdsmen on the Serengeti. It could not have shared grassland peaceably with livestock. 

A Southern white rhino bull kicking in a midden. Bulls weigh between 2 and 4 tonne. (Courtesy V. J. Ruiter, 2016, posted on Facebook -SANParks)
 Mala Mala, 1987: "We'd stopped in a large open-area when somebody noticed a large animal in the distance, coming toward us at speed. We began to realize that it wasn't going to slow down or change direction. Puzzled, we packed our drinks, climbed back onto the Land-rover and backed away. The white rhino crashed straight through our spot to a midden on the far side of it. He kicked, sprayed urine, then ran on into the bush-veld."
   It is believed that people from northern Africa first brought livestock to the Serengeti, hundreds or even thousands of years ago (; Jonathan Scott in bbcprogram.) Fossil evidence that the Northern white rhino once lived on the Serengeti dates from the Pleistocene epoch - between 10 thousand and 2 million years ago (A.R.E. Sinclair.) It seems very likely that those first herders from the north were involved in the disappearance of all White rhino from the Serengeti at some time since that fossil record was laid down. Herders wouldn't have persecuted the Black rhino (Diceros) as much, because it isn't a grass-eater (only browses leaves from shrubs) and therefore doesn't gallop around in defense of grazing territory.
   Then came the guns. In the 19th and 20th centuries, a preference for eating beef might explain why tribesmen kept quiet while so many Europeans were killing so many rhinos for sport. (In Maasai tradition, no game meat is eaten, only beef.) 
   Twentieth century Africans killed rhino too. In 1924, H. Lang wrote: "the northern white rhino was an important part of the diet of local Africans ..there seemed to be 'no effective means' to stop the 'wholesale slaughter of the northern form' since proper policing of the vast areas was 'practically impossible'" (ref. 
 Regrettably, there was never a plan to re-introduce the Northern White rhino to the Serengeti. It should have found a niche somewhere in that rich ecosystemCould it be that nobody wanted it back on lands where some livestock was also being pastured? Help comes slowly for white rhino where people give priority to their cattle. - A new reserve for elephants in East Africa was recently proposed on the understanding that cattle can live on it too ( - requires subscription.) Obviously, no cattle-chasing white rhino will be included. 
   One country has bucked the trend: South Africa saved the Southern White rhino by fencing game reserves and allowing no livestock inside them. That country saved the whole species, given that the Northern subspecies (once, the most populous) has become too scarce to propagate itself.

    Northern WR: 2 (females)
    Southern WR: restored from 50 to 20,000±
IUCN in 2008: "an estimated 17,460 southern white rhino in the wild."
   White rhino keep a wilderness area in its natural state by chasing domestic animals out. If we conserve white rhino, we might keep the Big 5 habitat.

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) standing their ground and sniffing the air. © M. Jinnah

Black Rhino were numerous in the 19th century. 
   The Black or 'Hook-lipped' rhino has lips that are shaped for browsing from bushes and small trees: It avoids competition with grazing species. 
   When the era of the 'Great White Hunter' had arrived in the 19th century, there were perhaps half a million Black rhino. Kenya still had 18,000 in 1970 but the Maasai Mara now has just 25 (ref. Fogle, 2016.)
Also see : Hemingway, the GWH

   The population of the Northern White rhino was almost as big as that of the Black rhino in the 18th century, but they are no longer roaming freely anywhere. Ernest Hemingway killed at least one of them.

Of lions and hunters.
   The decline of lions parallels that of white rhino: There were about 450,000 in 1947 but fewer than 20,000 lions live today. Like the white rhino, they are restricted to a few localities in the smaller 'half' of Africa, i.e. in the equatorial East and parts of southern Africa (where British influence encouraged the first modern conservation efforts.)
   Jonathan Scott explained that severe drought recently caused viral distemper to become deadly in lions of the Maasai Mara. They had been eating starved buffalo that were over-burdened with ticks, and a tick-borne disease (babesiosis) then attacked the lions' immune systems. With weakened immunity, many lions succumbed to the canine distemper which is carried into wild habitat by hyenas that have scavenged near people who keep dogs.
   Lions of the Ngorongoro Crater are in a crisis because males can no longer cross the crater rim and bring the benefit of genetic mixing. Inbreeding in the crater is taking its toll and the lion population has halved and become unhealthy. The 18 thousand Maasai who have settled on the rim of the crater are not planning to re-open the corridor that lions once had.     
Another problem for lion conservation is the habit that hunters have of selecting large, dark-maned males for trophies. Such males are the sires of most cubs in any population and, when one is killed, its cubs are removed by the nearest subordinate male to bring their mother back into oestrus. The destabilization of prides by removal of trophy males means that too many cubs do not reach maturity. While hunting fees can help wilderness areas to 'pay their way', there is need for a more sophisticated approach among hunters (also see
   A 'myth buster' quotes Donald Trump Jr.: "This is why hunters so often give back by contributing to conservation”. The sad story of the Northern White Rhino shows that we cannot rely on hunters to help much with species conservation: Hunters killed them for a couple of centuries and nobody can "give" them "back" now. (Hunters might be more useful in America when controlling White-tailed deer population, but don't they also kill off too many bears and mountain lions? d.mail.)
More white rhino history / Government intervention saved the species.
'Your lip is square, "wyd"!'
   On equatorial slopes in east Africa, grass grows well where volcanic soil does not sustain many trees. The White rhino's square lip is an adaptation for eating that grass, not far from the volcanoes. During an ice age, White rhino preferred the equatorial climate, but they fanned out in warmer times and some ended up in southern Africa. (Of those heading north, some descendants might have gone as far as England when there was a land-bridge. - norfolk/rhino)
   When white hunters arrived in the 19th century from Europe and America, the Northern and Southern White rhino had become separate gene pools. It's not known whether fertile calves could have been reared by cross-breeding them. The Northern subspecies was still the biggest group, numbering in hundreds of thousands.
   By the 1950s, Southern Whites were in the worst decline and there was one estimate of only 50 survivors. (Another record says: "a single population of barely 20 animals in 1885" It was realized that only political leadership might stop Ceratotherium from disappearing altogether: South African government decided to fund the efforts of Dr Ian Player's 'Operation Rhino' (see chart below.) With Player's ideas, Umfolozi Game Reserve became a successful breeding experiment and nearby Hluhluwe GR was also stocked with rhino. From just 300 head in 1952, the program ultimately raised a regional population of 20,405 (ref. Save the Rhino.)
Some of Dr Player's 20,405 Southerners have been released north of South Africa but nowhere is safe anymore. 2013: In "Africa", people try to warn David Attenborough that there might soon be no more sightings of Namibian rhino associating at night. 2015: 'Four dealers caught' indicates how Namibia had suddenly lost 77 rhino. (Only one or two were being killed in previous years.) 2016: Bearing mind that people used to love South West Africa for its lack of human disturbance, see Namibia 2016.
May 2016, Kruger National Park. "The number of incidences of poached rhinos being found on or near to popular transit roads in Kruger National Park have increased alarmingly in the last couple of months."  © OSCAP.
Hear Damien Mander describe his fight to defend 40% of Africa's rhino from international crime syndicates. 

2016 - 'Operation Rhino' struggles in a ravaged economy.
   Trade sanctions led to a crisis in southern Africa as many businesses failed in the 1990s. Dr Player's legacy is a hard act to follow with the ZAR hitting an all-time low value of 0.05 Pound Sterling in June 2015 (bbc/news - The Rand was stable for decades previously and often worth more than 0.50 Pound Sterling/1 US Dollar.)
Shoot-outs with poachers began in Umfolozi GR circa 1990. The Kruger National Park is even more difficult to defend with its long eastern border that faces Mozambique: growing-numbers-poached. It was estimated that poaching had increased fifty-fold between 2007 and 2014 (ref. savetherhino.) In Namibia by 2015, the increase was even worse: 77 killed in a desert population. Now, the percentage increase is so high that it's almost a meaningless value: 9,300%. An estimated 5000 have been shot between 2007 and 2016.
 New Chinese investment in Africa has attracted people who pay for unlimited harvesting of rare animals, e.g. 1000 kg-SA-pangolin-seized-in-Hong-Kong and half-tonne-pangolin-scales-at-jkenyata. There is a danger to biodiversity all across the continent, e.g. 68,000 python skins. 
Reaching into a once-secure South African heartland, there has been poaching of cherished animals in small reserves, e.g. Stagman and bpgrec.
© Brad Mulder
Protecting the Africa we all know and love by saving the 'indunas of the bushveld'.
The territorial behaviour of the White rhino keeps other animals on the move and thereby helps maintain the 'Big 5' ecosystem. (Wolves play a similar role in Yellowstone.)
   The future of rhino species is more at risk now than it was thirty years ago, even in South Africa. Social change in South Africa has a history of economic down-turn and the government has become less effective at maintaining infrastructure and services. More and more conservation is left to private effort, e.g. rhinotearswine and Nkombe-Rhino.
South Africa can re-affirm its position of leadership if new government sees rhinos as 'indunas of the bush-veld', securing a national resource for tourism. Great Britain recently gave £5 million for fighting the trade in ivory and horn (£5millio.) Another £5 million to South Africa could be seen as gratitude for having saved rhino previously.
Wildlife conservation is not adequate in post-colonial Africa: Fossils show that the White rhino was present on the Maasai Mara grasslands in the Pleistocene epoch (A.R.E. Sinclair.) While ancient cattle herders might have driven the species out, the Maasai preference for beef has probably had an impact on the Black rhino: "Cattle, grazing illegally on the reserve, are diminishing plant life and driving away herbivores". In this decade, there has been a  70% reduction in Big 5 species associated with over-grazing by Maasai cattle. The BBC recently reported that most of the cattle died during a severe drought. The ecosystem is less able to recover from such weather extremes because of the previous over-grazing. The Maasai have taken to growing tea in the Serengeti reserve instead: BBC.  
Callous indifference is sometimes disguised as 'traditional activity', e.g. Ben Fogle shows how Hadza tribesmen (now calling themselves "Hadzabe") hunt baboons for breakfast, and eat them on the spot. The alpha-male baboon was chased into a tree where it cried out many times as it was struck by small arrows. The leading Hadzabe said that chimp and gorilla should be on the menu too. In a later episode, Ben is called to see the hacked remains of a young elephant that had strayed between some Serengeti homesteads and was killed with a spear. "What would the numbers be like if we weren't here?" said the American researcher. 
In southwestern Africa, Simon Reeve reveals how the newly-rich Botswana government has taken the South African model for conservation to a cruel extreme. They have been expelling aboriginal Bushmen to peripheral camps, confiscating their goats and forbidding the hunting of any wild animals for meat. Only a few decades ago, the same San people were expert scouts for South African soldiers who were in conflict with communist insurgents. Now some sit around consuming alcohol. Prospecting for diamonds occurs where they have been evicted. 
The NY Times says that trophy-hunting fees do not benefit the protection of endangered species. Great White Hunters are still killing animals in countries where their conservation is inadequate.
Typical in South Africa now, this report in a facebook group called Outraged SA citizens... "5 rhinos shot in Boma in NW last night. One survived but the prognosis is not good." © OSCAP

A timeline of devastation (and only a part of the story): 
   Three centuries ago, an eradication of American Bison began in a place where it was easy to see the devastation. It became a warning about the damage that we do to wildlife. When Europeans retreated from their African colonies (e.g. King Leopold of Belgium), they left tribal leaders with little time for wildlife. 21st century Asian interest in Africa brings a new onslaught on several species. Recently, people were murdered for trying to save elephants in the park that once had the Northern White rhino on a road to survival: Garamba.
+  2011:  The Western black rhino Diceros bicornis longipes was declared extinct. (black_rhino.)
+  2014:  The Northern White Rhino can no longer reproduce and the Southern subspecies has lost safe ground, e.g. 749-animals-killed. 'Big 5' habitat has shrunk to just a few areas in southern Africa, where it is defended by the patrolling habit of the dominant male rhino.
+  22/08/2015.  'Save the Rhino' declared that the Sumatran rhino is extinct in Malaysia.
+  21/09/2015.  What it's like at a poaching incident: TheSanWildRhinoSanctuary/photos
+  27/09/2015.  8 more killed on a Sunday in Imfolozi-Hluhluwe (the Reserve that saved the White Rhino.)
June 2016 - It was mentioned on a new BBC cookery program in Shanghai that successive times of starvation, the most recent one caused by the Communist revolution, forced Chinese to start eating whatever animals they could find. Thus began some of the acts against animals that we find so unspeakable.
+  20/10/2015.  The Queen is hosting the Chinese chairman. On the same day, other chairmen pledged R660 billion investment for industry in South Africa. Meanwhile, Prince William has been appealing against the trade in ivory, but it wasn't announced on any main facebook pages or on TV hardly. (A chairman agreed to a one-year ban on ivory trade. That should be enough time for more mines to be operating in SA. As in Zimbabwe, will wildlife waterholes suddenly acquire cyanide?
+  22/10/2015.  Four Chinese dealers caught explains how Namibia has lost 77 this year. (Only one or two were being lost in previous years.)
+  Since new mines (a source of cyanide) were opened in Zimbabwe, Mozambique has lost half its elephants in 5 years. In response, there is complaint that South Africans shot poacher "compatriots" in the KNP.
+  China has begun to buy up the mineral wealth of South Africa: rio-tinto-and-anglo-sell-palabora-to-chinese-group
+  29/10/2015.  Only one country seems to be linked to 'large orders' for ivory and horns60 Elephants-cyanide
+  01/11/2015.  Asian perpetrators in Zimbabwe have their ID protected: top-cop-fingered-in-poaching
+  08/11/2015.  Another four Chinese, this time in Tanzania, also with nearly a dozen rhino horns: tanzanian-police-arrest-4-chinese. See image: en.starafrica.
..... many incidents later:
+  27/02/2016.  Yes, the Chinese eco-invasion of Africa has been a root cause: elephants-crime
+  March 2016.  As predicted, Chinese incentive is mobilizing locals within South Africa to butcher the handfuls of rhinos in dedicated, small wildlife parks, mostly along the eastern edge of the country, e.g. lloyd/post1 and rhinofoundation.
+  April 2016.  Yet more killed in specialized reserves that are far from the northern border of South Africa. It indicates the degree to which smuggling networks can infiltrate an African country.
+  April 2016.  Another three in an area once totally safe for big game: second-attack-reserve/
+  April 2016.  Another mother rhino slain: video
+  May 8, 2016.  On the 90th birthday of Sir David Attenborough, and South Africa's Mothers' Day, six more slaughtered in the Northern Cape near Kimberly:
+  May 27, 2016: Some see poaching as their birthright in a new South Africa:  "The alleged kingpin attempted to disarm the Special Task Team member, severely beating and biting him, and then he got into his car and attempted to run him over. Back-up arrived and Gwala was arrested." 
+  June 2016.  "In the morning hours, a guard was overpowered on a farm in the Bela Bela area. The guard was fatally injured and the deceased's weapon was taken. Afterwards, a rhino was shot and the horn poached. At the moment, HPG members are following the tracks of 7 intruders." HPG
+  August 2016: Hunting of elephants has reached into the western half of southern Africa, where there was once an unspoken reverence for wildlife (and Bushmen were not squeezed out in favour of diamond interests.) : reinhardt.kusters 
+  For ongoing news, visit Hoedspruit Endangered SC or join Save our Rhino.
  Here's a page about one well-loved insect that belongs in Big 5 habitat: national/dung-beetles
"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ― John Muir

p.s. Can we ever hope to put an end to this sort of thing?: