Rhino experts from around the world are descending on Chester this week - the first time the world’s leading minds on rhinos have come together in Europe.
More than 100 zookeepers, researchers, scientists and conservationists from the USA, Australia, Africa and Europe are gathering to debate issues surrounding the five species of rhino (black, greater one-horned, white, Sumatran and Javan rhino) at an event which is being hosted by Chester Zoo.
The key topics to be discussed include conservation, managing breeding programmes in zoos and discussing ways to stop people, specifically in Asia, wanting to acquire rhino horn to sell on the traditional medicine market.
The growing price of rhino horn has led to a massive decline in rhino numbers with numbers decreased by up to 97% in the past 50 years. 2014 was branded ‘the worst poaching year on record’ by leading conservationists after over 1,200 rhinos were hunted in South Africa alone, a 9000% increase from 2007.
Chester Zoo’s director general Dr Mark Pilgrim is responsible for managing the breeding programme for the Eastern black rhino - working to ensure the survival of the critically endangered animals - in zoos across Europe. He will look to highlight the zoo’s scientific research in rhino facilities, nutrition, hormones and genetics.
Dr Pilgrim said “As the demand and price for rhino horn grows and poachers continue to slaughter rhinos across Africa, it is imperative that everyone does all they can now to protect them.
Chester Zoo works with and supports multiple organisations that put huge effort into protecting rhinos in the wild but it’s also vital that we have a highly effective breeding programme in zoos. We need to have a genetically viable insurance population as, in the future, it could be what saves the species from extinction".
He continued "Bringing together so many hugely knowledgeable minds, from all over the world, to share ideas and strive to further improve the way that rhinos are cared for and bred in zoos is so important and it’s a huge honour to be hosting the event.”
Chester Zoo has been successful in breeding a number of critically endangered black rhinos – with five calves born in the last seven years – as well as greater one-horned rhino, Komala.
Curator of mammals at the zoo, Tim Rowlands, added “Our rhinos, and particularly the young calves, draw a lot of attention from visitors and they’re great ambassadors for the species out in the wild. Although they’re a visitor favourite, we need people to realise the huge amount of pressures that rhinos face on a daily basis due to poaching.
Rhinos in the wild are being killed for their horns by criminal gangs that go on to sell the horn for huge amounts of money on the black market. If these poaching and hunting pressures continue, rhinos could be extinct in the wild in just over ten years’ time.”
Chester Zoo is one of just a handful of institutions in the world that is working with conservation organisations in Africa - including Save the Rhino International - to ensure the long-term survival of rhinos in the wild.
The event will also incorporate Rhino Mayday on June 16 – an annual rhino awareness day led by Save the Rhino International – where practical demonstrations will take place, including a live demo showcasing how dogs can improve rhino conservation by tracking and disarming poachers and matching them to their rhino victims.
The workshop is now in its ninth year and will take place at the Queen Hotel in Chester. On June 17, Chester Zoo will be hosting a tour for delegates to explore the UK’s most visited zoo and visit the home of the 10 critically endangered Eastern black rhino and three greater one-horned
Chester Zoo rhino facts:
- Chester Zoo is one of the main organisations fighting for the survival of eastern black rhino and has long supported conservation efforts in the wild to try and protect black rhinos and continues to pump money, and provide expertise, to numerous sanctuaries in Africa
- The Chester Zoo Black Rhino Programme started in 1999, in partnership with Save the Rhino, providing substantial financial support to Kenya Wildlife Service to enable the translocation of 20 black rhinos to wildlife reserves in the Tsavo region of Kenya
- More recently we have also provided support for the rhinos in Chyula Hills National Park and Laikipia District in Kenya and Mkomazi in Tanzania
- Helping to ensure an insurance population exists in the event that black rhino become extinct in the wild; Chester Zoo has been successful in breeding a number of critically endangered black rhinos and plays a vital part in the international breeding programme
- Ground-breaking science by a team at Chester Zoo team has contributed to the zoo’s successful black rhino breeding programme. Zoo researchers have spent several years carefully monitoring the hormone levels of their resident female rhinos in a bid to discover the best time to introduce them to a potential partner. These hormone levels are monitored by analysing rhino dung. Tracking hormones gives an insight into what is going on inside the animals. It can help tell things like whether or not an animal is a seasonal breeder, whether it has reached puberty, whether it’s cycling on a regular basis or not and when the optimum time to introduce a male to a female is, as well as diagnose pregnancies and estimate when an animal will give birth
For more information on Chester Zoo: www.chesterzoo.org