Category Archives: endangered species

The Village of the Elephants Violated by Rebels

Dzanga-Ndoki National Park located in the Central African Republic is a United Nations backed World Heritage Site.  The park is known for both forest elephants and low-land gorillas.  A large clearing with a mineral water lake called Dzanga Bai, or Village of Elephants, drew between 50 and 200 elephants per day.

Dzanga Bai has been a particularly wonderful place to study these elephants since they come there regularly to drink and play in the water.  Andrea Turkalo, a member of the Elephant Listening Program, has studied the elephant that come to Dzanga Bai for 18 years.  She has identified 3,000 individuals and many family groups.

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

It is not certain whether or not the forest elephant is a subspecies of the African elephant or a separate species.  There are some significant differences.  For instance, the forest elephant has a longer, narrower jaw, straight tusks, and more toes on its front (5 vs. 4) and back (4 vs. 3) feet.  Forest elephants come in different colors.  Yes, not just grey, but also red, brown, calico, and most impressive a magnificent shade of bright gold.  Unfortunately for forest elephants, their straight, pink tinged tusks are harder than that of other elephants; and so are in greater demand by poachers.

The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since December 2012.  In March of this year, the Seleka Rebel Coalition overthrew the government and took control, but has made no effort to do any sort of peacekeeping.  More than 37,000 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, others to Chad and Cameroon.

The offices of the World Wildlife Fund have been looted so often since March of this that they have removed their personnel from the park.  South Africa has withdrawn 200 of the 600 soldiers it had supplied for protecting the park.  The defense minister indicated that the troops were not prepared to face poachers armed with mortars and state of the art Kalashnikov assault rifles.  There is grave concern for the 3,400 forest elephants that live in the park, since poaching has become rampant.  The number of elephants found in the park has declined 62% in the last ten years.

Heavily armed gunmen, who claimed to be members of the Seleka Rebel Coalition, entered the park and on May 9, 2013, and used scientific observation platforms to kill at least 26 elephants including four calves.  They then hacked off the tusks and left the park.  People from nearby villages salvaged the meat from the carcasses and it is being sold openly in local markets.  No elephants have returned to the site since the massacre.

The demand for ivory in Thailand and China, where trading of ivory is legal, is thought to be among the reasons for the increased poaching that has occurred since March, but the lack of security in the park also provides the poachers with unique opportunities to slaughter the animals.  The Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, has promised to change the laws concerning the trade of ivory within her country; China has also committed to banning the sale of ivory.  Neither country has yet done so.

Today there are no elephants in the Elephant Village.  No elephants come for water.  There are no elephants to study.  Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, World Heritage Site, has been desecrated.




Filed under Elephants, endangered species, Environment, Massacre, Natural Resources

A Cuddly Rhinoceros

When people think of rhinoceroses the word cuddly rarely comes to mind.  With only five remaining types of rhinoceroses remaining and most of them are endangered, we need to rethink our image of them.

Rhinoceroses can be dangerous.  Chantal Beyer from Johannesburg, South Africa, was gored recently after having her picture taken with a wild rhino.  The rhinoceros’ horn punctured her lung and broke several ribs.  These huge creatures are neither slow nor harmless and should be treated with respect.

There are two types of rhinoceroses in Africa: the Black and the White Rhinoceroses.  In Asia there are three types the Indian, the Javan, and the Sumatran Rhinoceroses.  All five types of rhinoceroses are gigantic in comparison to humans.  The smallest type of rhinoceros is the Sumatran, weighing 1,500 pounds and about 4 feet tall to the top of its shoulder.  There were 275 Sumatran rhinoceroses remaining as of the December 2012.

The largest type of rhinoceros is the White rhinoceros (below at the Wilds in Cumberland, OH), which isn’t white, and in fact, can be darker that the so-called Black rhinoceros.  The White Rhinoceros is approximately 6 feet at the shoulder White rhinoand weighs about 7,700 pounds.  Until recently there were two groups of White rhinoceroses in Africa, one in the north, and one in the south.  The one in the south is the most numerous with approximately 16,000 individuals.  The group in the north may be extinct.  No individuals have been wild since 2008.

The Black Rhinoceros is much smaller than their White cousins, weighing only 3,500 pounds and just over five feet tall at the top of the shoulder.  Once four subspecies of Black Rhinoceroses roamed Africa: the South-central group, South-western group, East African, and the West African.  The West African group was proclaimed to be extinct in 2011.

The Javan Rhinoceros is the most reclusive.  It prefers forests and swamps as its home.  There was a time when this rhinoceros roamed throughout India, Burma, the Malaysia Peninsula, and Sumatra.  Most recently it was found in Java and Vietnam, but the last one in Vietnam was killed in 2010.  There are approximately 60 left on a preserve in Java.

The Indian Rhinoceros (pictured at right at the Warsaw Zoo in Poland) once wandered throughout Asia, now it is confined to the base of the Himalayas, in Nepal and North Eastern India.  This rhinoceros is nearly as large as theIndian Rhino African White Rhinoceros, weighing 7,100 pounds and nearly 6 and one half feet tall at the top of its shoulder.

The different types of rhinoceroses differ from each in the shape of their heads, the number of horns they have, their skin appearance and the amount of hair they have.  Both of the African rhinoceroses have two horns, the larger of which is in front.  They both have smooth skin and very little hair.  Their heads however differ greatly with the White Rhinoceros having a broad head while the Black Rhinoceros has a smaller head with lips reminiscent of the tip of an elephant’s trunk.

Of the Asian rhinoceroses only the Sumatran Rhinoceros has two horns.  The other two have a single horn.  The Javan and Indian Rhinoceroses have huge folds of skin that give them an armored appearance and very little hair.  The Sumatran also has skin folds, but they are much less distinctive.  The Sumatran has the most hair of all rhinoceroses.

Rhinoceroses have few natural predators.  Large cats and crocodiles are sometimes able to take a young rhinoceros, but the females are vicious when protecting their young so there is a great deal of risk in trying to take one.

Man is the cause of the decline of the rhinoceros.  Poachers hunt them for the horns on their heads, which are different from other animal horns as they have no bone but are solid keratin (below is a photo of a Tibetan monk holding a rhino horn taken in 1938.).  Poachers kill the animal, cut off the horn, and leave the rest of the animal behind to decay. Monk with Horn The horns are in great demand as an ingredient in some traditional Asian medicines to reduce of fevers not as an aphrodisiac as is widely believed.  In Vietnam the price of rhino horn is reportedly up to $40,000 per kilogram.  In the Middle East, the horns are carved to make beautiful decorative dagger handles.  These daggers are given to 12 year-old boys in Yemen and other countries as a symbol of manhood.

The Chinese government removed rhinoceros horn from the Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia in 1993.  The British Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine denounced the use of rhinoceros horn as a medicine in 2011.  A growing number of traditional Chinese scholars support giving up the use of rhinoceros horn.  Governments are working to reduce the amount of poaching, but the number of rhinoceros killed each year is on the increase.  In South African preserves 333 rhinoceroses were found dead in 2010, 448 were found in 2011, and as of December 21, 2012, 633 rhinoceroses had been killed.  The fate of the rhinoceroses in the wild is headed toward extinction.  It is difficult to protect them from poachers even in parks.

Zoos around the world have joined to develop a Global Captive Action Plan (GCAP) for the long-term survival of rhinoceroses.  Meticulous records are being kept of the lineage of the rhinos born in captivity in an effort to maintain genetic diversity.  A group of at least 20 individuals is considered to be the minimum required for a viable population.  In order for a group to be considered wild they must have enough space in a natural rhino habitat to survive without human intervention.

With continued effort, it is possible that some species of rhinoceroses will survive.  With modern medicines being far more effective than rhino horn at reducing fevers, perhaps demand will drop and poaching won’t be as profitable.  Until that happens, rhinoceroses are in danger of disappearing forever.



February 18, 2013 · 3:11 pm