Friday, February 10, 2012

Rhino irony

More bad news about rhinos, I'm afraid. In an ironic turn of events at a private reserve near Pretoria yesterday, a demonstration of conservation efforts by the Rhino Rescue Project resulted in the death of a member of the endangered species the group is working to save (image above). The public relations event went wrong when a rhinoceros in his 20s known as "Spencer" had a reaction after being shot by a tranquilizer dart, went into convulsions, and died in front of dozens of reporters and other invitees. Journalist Sue Blaine witnessed the scene and writes, "Today’s exercise was sad from beginning to end. I felt immensely sad to see Spencer lying in the grass, under sedation. I was shocked to hear the animal had died." Spokeswoman Lorinda Hern said, "The rhino had an unfortunate reaction to the anesthesia. Every time you dart a rhino, you take a risk that the rhino might not wake up and unfortunately today was one of those days." The conservation group had planned to sedate the animal and insert a microchip and a capsule containing poison and dye into his horn (read more about the project here), an alternative to preemptively removing the horn (watch video here) to make him safe from poachers. The poison would release if the horn were removed, eliminating its value for use in traditional medicine. The World Wildlife Fund does not support the use of the poison (an insecticide) because of its potential danger to humans who ingest the powdered horn, but is in favor of the dye that is also inserted. The dye does not affect the outward appearance of the horn, but can be detected by airport security devices, helping law enforcement officials trace horn shipments. Wildlife veterinarian and WWF rhino expert Joseph Okori was present on Thursday and explains, “There is always a potential risk [but] the whole issue is, we are facing a serious rhino poaching crisis. This is a war. The desperation is quite high for rhino owners, to do whatever it takes to protect their rhinos.” The goal is to reduce the number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa, which has risen from 15 per year 10 years ago to 448 in 2011. The extreme measures at the reserve follow the loss of a pregnant rhino and her calf to poachers in 2010. About Spencer, Hern continues, "It's sad for us; it's the loss of another animal. It's a death that I still chalk up to poaching."

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