Rhino's Death Underscores Zoo's Conservation Efforts

It wasn't really a surprise for wildlife conservationists, but news this week that the world's last male northern white rhino has died sparked international dismay. At 45, Sudan the rhino had been living in a conservancy in Kenya and was in poor health. He was euthanized Monday. That leaves just two females to save the subspecies from extinction, with scientists looking at various alternative reproduction techniques.

While it's a race against the clock to try and save the northern white rhino, experts say every rhino species is under threat.

Dr. Chris Kuhar, executive director of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo joined Rick Jackson to discuss the zoo's current conservation efforts:

On how a possible extinction has an impact even here in Cleveland:

"The way it connects to us is the reality that it's 2018, and we're losing a major species here. And it's not because it's got a complicated breeding system or anything like that. It's directly the result of human activities. Not just in Africa, it's the demand for rhino horn in China, South Africa... here in the U.S. And I think it highlights how important zoos are to be able to talk about species like the northern white rhino and talk about the conservation impact that we can all have."

On combating illegal wildlife trafficking:

"I think a lot of times Americans think that's a problem over there. But quite honestly, all of these things - ivory trade, rhino horn , they're a result of the demand for the product. And as long as we're continuing to buy that product and creating that demand, there's going to be someone who's going to provide that service. It's really about helping people understand these trinkets, these status symbols are coming from a live animal and that you are having an impact as a consumer. Really, it's consumer behavior that can change a lot in this world."

Eastern black rhinos are also critically endangered, with fewer than 750 remaining in the wild -- but Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has had pretty great success with breeding:

"We've been really lucky. We've had great success with the black rhino. We just had a really wonderful calf earlier this year. And part of that is allowing people to engage in the conservation that we're doing because it can be really depressing, right? So what we want to do is be able to provide an opportunity for folks to engage. We did a naming contest for our little female. The opportunity to name them with a donation to conservation allowed us to raise $2,500 that will go towards protecting rhinos and focusing on work preventing illegal wildlife trafficking."

On the changing role of zoos:

"The way we view the role of zoos now is that we are an opportunity for folks to come in and have fun. We want conservation to be fun, but we're also looking at it as an opportunity for those animals that are in our zoo to be ambassadors for those that are in the wild and possibly really help protect them honestly."


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