So you can image the surprise when a team from Global Wildlife Conservation and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) saw one of these incredible creatures wallowing in the mud in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park, the only place on Earth where these critically endangered species are found.
"We heard a crashing sound, and suddenly this rhino just appeared to the right of us," said Robin Moore, the team member from Global Wildlife Conservation who took the photos, in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. "It was a surreal, once-in-a-lifetime moment, like time had stopped, and it was all we could do not to scare the animal away in our excitement."
The rhino is known for its dusky grey color and a single horn that can be as long as 10 inches, according to WWF. Its skin has loose folds, making it look like armored plating.
"By sharing these photos, we hope to give people an emotional connection to this rare species—an animal that even rhino biologists only dream of getting a glimpse of in the wild," said photographer Robin Moore. Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation
Unlike white and black rhinos that live in Africa's open grasslands and savannas, Javan rhinos live in thick forests, making them difficult to find and study—much less capture on camera.
These rhinos once roamed parts of India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Southern China. But the species has been hunted to near extinction for its horn that's used in traditional medicine. Loss of its lowland habitat has also endangered the animals.
Due to poaching and habitat loss, only 20 of the animals were left in Ujung Kulon in the 1960s. Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation
"This amazing footage of one of the world's rarest animals is a reminder of how hard we must work to bend the curve on the decline of rare and iconic species like the Javan rhino," Margaret Kinnaird, leader of WWF's Wildlife Practice, said in the press release. "Last month, we released the Living Planet report showing a 60 percent decline in wildlife populations over the last generation, with poaching and habitat destruction among the greatest threats."
Although the number 68 sounds small, it's actually a considerable jump from the 1960s, when there were only 20 Javan rhinos left.
Still, since the remaining population has such a limited range, the Javan rhino is vulnerable to disease outbreak or natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
"Collaborative conservation efforts have resulted in rising Javan rhino numbers, underscoring the need to work together for common conservation goals. Javan rhinos are still far from secure and require continued efforts by the Indonesian government and its partners," Kinnaird continued.
A Javan rhino in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park. Video by David Hermanjaya/WWF-Indonesia. www.youtube.com
The Indonesian government works in partnership with WWF, Global Wildlife Conservation, the International Rhino Foundation and the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI) to protect the animals.
Current conservation efforts include the establishment of Rhino Protection Units to prevent poaching and intensive population monitoring. In the future, conservationists hope to translocate individual rhinos to a new location to establish a second population elsewhere in Indonesia. They also intend to control the invasive Arenga palm, which shades out the forest floor and inhibits the growth of plants that the rhinos eat.
"We give thanks to the community surrounding the park in helping us to protect Javan Rhino," Rahmat U Mamat, head of Ujung Kulon National Park, said in the press release. "The Javan rhino is a pride of Indonesia, so we should protect it from extinction."
China Restores Rhino and Tiger Parts Ban After International Fury https://t.co/D8Wk8zbOSh— Oceanic Preservation Society / OPS (@Oceanic Preservation Society / OPS)1542466837.0
Ninety-five percent of Earth's lemur population is threatened, experts warned this week, underscoring their unfortunate position as the world's most endangered primates.
Of the planet's 111 known lemur species and subspecies, 105 can be provisionally evaluated as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, a group of primate specialists convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) determined.
"This is, without a doubt, the highest percentage of threat for any large group of mammals and for any large group of vertebrates," Global Wildlife Conservation's chief conservation officer Russ Mittermeier, said in a press release.
Mittermeier also chaired the primate specialist group that assessed the lemur's conservation status for an update of the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.
The primates, which are unique to the island of Madagascar, are threatened due to habitat loss from agriculture, illegal logging, charcoal production and mining, according to the IUCN. What's more, this ongoing destruction impacts the nation's striking biodiversity as a whole, Mittermeier pointed out.
"This assessment not only highlights the very high extinction risk Madagascar's unique lemurs face, but it is indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole," he said. "Madagascar's unique and wonderful species are its greatest asset, its most distinctive brand and the basis for a major ecotourism industry."
The experts provisionally classified 38 lemur species as critically endangered, 44 endangered and 23 vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. This represents an increase of 12 threatened species from the IUCN's last lemur population assessment in July 2012. The largest jump was seen in the critically endangered category, which rose from 24 species to 38.
Lemur species up-listed from endangered to critically endangered include the indri, the largest of the living lemurs, as well as Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, the world's smallest primate.
Other critically endangered species include the Blue-eyed Black Lemur, as seen in this tweet. It's one of the few primate species other than humans that has blue eyes.
Sounding The Alarm: Madagascar’s Weird And Wonderful Lemurs On The Brink https://t.co/lN8vtic8UH https://t.co/XLno3oNeFX— Global Wildlife Conservation (@Global Wildlife Conservation)1533174959.0
Besides habitat loss, hunting the animals for food and capturing them as pets has emerged as a new threat.
"This is very alarming, and we have noticed a particularly worrying increase in the level of hunting of lemurs taking place, including larger-scale commercial hunting, which is unlike anything we have seen before in Madagascar," said Bristol Zoological Society Conservation Director Christoph Schwitzer, who helped organize the assessment, in the press release.
Schwitzer continued, "We are investing a lot of time and resources into addressing these issues and will be implementing our Lemur Action Plan over the coming years, which we are confident will make a significant difference to the current situation."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
TripAdvisor and its booking agency Viator will no longer sell tickets or generate booking revenue from tourism experiences where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species. This includes activities such as elephant rides, petting tigers and swimming with dolphins.
The travel giant has banned tickets sales to attractions where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.Flickr
"TripAdvisor's new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections," said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor president and CEO.
Animal rights activists and organizations have long campaigned against cruel wildlife tourist attractions that can cause intense suffering to animals.
In June, officials found tiger skins, charms made from tiger parts and frozen tiger cubs at Thailand's infamous tiger temple tourism destination. For some elephant ride attractions, the animals are forced through a horrific training process known as "the crush," that involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water, as the World Animal Protection describes. And while many people love the idea of swimming with dolphins, Hawaii's population of spinner dolphins is now at the center of concerns over how increasing interactions with humans are impacting their health and wellbeing.
Want to Swim With Dolphins? Read This First https://t.co/1hjPtCoqen @Seasaver @1World1Ocean— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1458352514.0
Alongside the ticket sales ban, TripAdvisor has partnered with several conservation experts and animal rights groups to launch an "education portal" aimed at educating travelers about animal welfare practices in tourism. Partners include the U.S.-based Association of Zoos & Aquariums; animal welfare activist groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and World Animal Protection; and experts in tourism who have studied animal and wildlife issues like ABTA—The Travel Association, Sustainable Travel International and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. The portal will also provide opinions, research and insights on wildlife conservation, guided by Oxford University's WildCRU, Global Wildlife Conservation, Think Elephants International and Asian Elephant Support.
The idea behind the portal is that users will write more informed reviews about their experience at animal tourism destinations and, in turn, enable other travelers to make more informed booking decisions and to improve the standards of animal care in tourism worldwide. The portal will link to every animal attraction listing on the travel-review website.
Some animal-interaction destinations will cease booking through TripAdvisor immediately, while the educational portal and booking policy changes will be fully implemented by early 2017. By that time, every attraction listed on the website that involves animals will be identified with a "PAW" icon linking to the portal.
TripAdvisor's announcement is a big step for animal welfare in the tourism and travel industry. As the world's largest travel website, millions of people around the world visit the online hub for travel advice and for booking accommodations and activities. The website reaches 350 million average monthly unique visitors.
We will stop booking attractions that come into contact with captive wild animals or endangered species. More info:… https://t.co/IyiOAuZMiK— TripAdvisor (@TripAdvisor)1476281101.0
"TripAdvisor's leadership position in travel means we can help educate millions of travelers about the diverse opinions that exist on matters of animal welfare," Kaufer said. "We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions."
"At the same time, we want to celebrate those destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species," he said.
The company believes that its millions of reviewers "can serve as a check-and-balance on matters of quality, customer service and social issues such as how animals are treated in the tourism industry. For this reason, all animal attractions that meet our standard listing guidelines will continue to be displayed on TripAdvisor in order for travelers to review those establishments, regardless of whether they meet the company's criteria as a booking partner."
TripAdvisor's new policy has several exemptions, including:
- Domestic animals, e.g. horseback riding, children's petting zoos with domestic animals like rabbits, etc.
- Aquarium touch pools used for education purposes where tourists are under the supervision of zoo, aquarium and/or wildlife officials
- Feeding programs where tourists are under the supervision of zoo and/or wildlife officials
- Voluntourism programs for endangered species preservation at zoos, aquariums or sanctuaries where it is possible that there might be some level of physical interaction with an animal
PETA has applauded TripAdvisor's latest move.
RT to send @TripAdvisor a huge thank you for being on the right side of history & not supporting cruelty!… https://t.co/roMvezgWbS— PETA (@PETA)1476230762.0
"By refusing to sell tickets to businesses that treat animals as entertainment or playthings, TripAdvisor is making a precedent-setting statement about the use and abuse of animals for entertainment," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said. "PETA looks forward to contributing to TripAdvisor's industry-leading education portal, which will empower people around the world to make better decisions when it comes to animal-friendly travel."
Other big names in animal conservation have endorsed TripAdvisor's new effort.
"The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) welcomes the actions taken by TripAdvisor, a much valuable Affiliate Member of UNWTO, to strengthen its social corporate social responsibility in the area of animal welfare," said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary-general.
"We commend TripAdvisor for taking steps to improve the standards for interactions with wild and captive species in tourism," Wes Sechrest, chief scientist and CEO of Global Wildlife Conservation, said. "This will encourage people to visit destinations that promote the safe viewing of wildlife in the wild, such as national parks, as well as legitimate rescue centers and zoological facilities that support on-the-ground wildlife conservation efforts. We want people to connect with wildlife and feel inspired by wild places, and this will help provide a guide for how to do so without further endangering our planet's biodiversity."