There's a welcome bit of good news coming out of Africa. After immense conservation efforts, the numbers of critically endangered black rhinoceroses is slowly ticking up, according to the latest figures released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as the BBC's Science Focus reported.
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The world's oldest known living black rhino has died at age 57.
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The global population of the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros has increased to 72 after four new calves were spotted in the past several months.
A camera trap recorded a female Javan rhino with her calf. Ujung Kulon National Park Agency<p>The Indonesian environment ministry said the new calves had different mothers, and all were spotted within the park's borders.</p><p>"Ujung Kulon National Park is considered safe from threats to the area so wildlife there can breed," Indra Exploitasia, the ministry's director of biodiversity, told Mongabay in a text message.</p><p>"There are also programs to maintain the habitat, such as clearing invasive plants that disrupt growth of vegetation that the rhinos eat," she added.</p><p>A decade ago, the Javan rhino population was estimated at no more than 50 individuals in the park, a protected area spanning just 787 square kilometers (304 square miles) of land. (There's also a marine protected area of 443 square kilometers, or 171 square miles.) Efforts by the Indonesian government and organizations from around the world to beef up security across the area from encroachment and poaching have been put in force for many years, and experts now say they have resulted in a stable increase in rhino numbers.</p><p>The IRF said there has been no poaching in the park in more than 20 years, and at least one new calf born every year since 2012. A new marine patrol is currently being trained and expected to start monitoring the coastline of the park in January, the group added.</p>
The last Sumatran rhino died in Malaysia Saturday, making the critically endangered species extinct in that country.
By John R. Platt
Earlier this month a team of scientists announced they've developed a high-tech way to help save rhinos from poachers: They propose fabricating fake horns out of horse hair (which is also composed of inert keratin, like human fingernails) and then flooding the illegal market with their products, thereby lowering the price of powdered rhino horns so much that no one will ever want to kill another rhino again.
Confiscated rhino horns about to be burned.
Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS<p>Let's get to the ethical aspects of this trade in fakes. For one thing many consumers — those who actually use powdered rhino horn as "medicine" instead of holding on to it for eventual sale — are already being exploited. They're buying into false claims that rhino horn has curative qualities, including the recent and spurious assertion that it can <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229664-500-rhino-horn-isnt-a-hangover-cure-or-a-cancer-treatment/" target="_blank">treat cancer</a>. By selling fake rhino horns, you become complicit in that lie and directly harm people who could, and should, seek more appropriate and effective medical care.</p><p>Another ethical quandary: How are you going to get these products into the black market without putting your undercover operatives in direct harm from the violent criminals who run wildlife trafficking networks? And do we really think anyone's going to be able to squeeze these products into the same illegal market that professional law-enforcement operations haven't been able to shut down? The chances of success there seem slim — and potentially dangerous.</p><p>Finally let's address the invisible gorilla in the room: Selling fake rhino horn doesn't do anything to resolve the inequality that inspires poaching. More often than not, people hunt illegally to support their families. The monies they get from poaching may mean the difference between comfortable living and going hungry. Sure, their pay comes from the people higher up the clandestine ladder — and sure, some poachers are more criminally minded themselves — but if we want to solve the problem of poaching, we always have to factor in the fate of people on the ground.</p><p>Having said all this, I have to point out that the current idea to sell fake rhino horns is just lab science. The researchers fully acknowledge that they don't have an actual initiative to get these products into the market. They say it's up to someone else to actually figure out how to make their idea a reality — so for now it's basically a thought exercise, not a concrete plan.</p><p>I have a better idea: Let's leave this fake horn concept in the lab where it belongs and commit to more practical initiatives to help rhinos — and people — in threatened habitats, where real assistance is desperately needed. With poaching and illegal trafficking still running rampant, rhinos don't have time left for anything less.</p>
By John R. Platt
When it comes to solving problems related to wildlife trade, there are an awful lot of "sticky widgets."
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Seven eggs from the world's last northern white rhinoceroces have been successfully fertilized in a lab, scientists announced on Monday.
Sudan, the last northern white rhino, was unable to stand up in the end. He was treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds. Veterinary experts took the decision to euthanize the animal. "At the age of 45, Sudan was a very old man, well over 100 years old in human equivalent years," said the charity Helping Rhinos.
This white rhino subspecies made headlines last year following the death of Sudan, the last known male of his kind, making the species functionally extinct. Some scientists are cautiously optimistic that it could be brought back with the help of IVF technology.