The Western Black Rhinoceros
Thu, 11/17/2011 - 1:53pm
As you might have seen, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last week officially declared the western black rhinoceros extinct, just weeks after the Javan rhino was listed extinct. This is troubling news.
First, let’s clarify terminology. When an animal is declared extinct it means that no individuals remain in the wild. Zero. Extinct species can exist in zoos, though no western black rhinos are believed to be housed anywhere. To the best of our knowledge, none remain on the planet. (Lincoln Park Zoo exhibits eastern black rhinos—cousins of the extinct western black rhinos—which are considered endangered in their African habitat.)
So why is the western black rhino extinct? Human encroachment has shrunk their habitats in western Africa, while poachers have increased their slaughter in recent years, fueled by demand in Asian markets for rhino horns for medicinal use. Rhino horns offer no medicinal benefits, which makes this slaughter so upsetting.
Lincoln Park Zoo has recently halted rhino-conservation projects in Africa for fear that poachers could follow our scientists to find rhinos. That is dispiriting, but necessary.
So what can you do? You can support conservation initiatives such as the IUCN and Lincoln Park Zoo, which in addition to conducting research here in Chicago supports programs for a host of species around the world.
And you can visit the zoo to educate yourself about the majesty of wildlife, particularly the beautiful, burly rhinos that lumber through the yard at our Regenstein African Journey, serving as ambassadors for their dwindling cousins in the wild.
In brighter news, a long-tailed duck has taken up residence at Nature Boardwalk this week. It's the first time I've seen this species, formerly known as oldsquaw, around the zoo. Long-tailed ducks spend winters on the east coast and around the Great Lakes, so hopefully this female—and more like her—grace our grounds throughout the season. As always, I’ll keep you posted.