Conservation program serves as lifeline for rhinos
Israel's rhino herd is the largest of 78 participating zoos in Europe.
It's a girl!
Israel's Ramat Gan Safari, a 250-animal reserve, just announced the birth of a healthy female baby rhinoceros. The new calf, born three weeks ago, has not yet been named. It's the 30th birth of a rhino baby in the safari since its creation on the outskirts of Tel Aviv back in 1974. Their first baby rhino – named "Shalom" – was born exactly 40 years ago today.
Israel is part of an international breeding program for rhino conservation, which is organized by the European Endangered Species Program (EEP). It's a population management program for animals of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, of which Israel is a member. The Ramat Gan Safari, with 13 rhinos, is the largest herd of the entire program – which includes more than 300 rhinos across 78 zoos.
As a commitment to breeding this highly endangered species, two young females were imported from South Africa's Pretoria Zoo to Israel in 2012. In addition to normal pregnancies, the EEP is looking at all possible angles to increase the rhino population – including using test-tube techniques and stem cell science.
Rhinos, who can live up to 35 years in the wild, rank among the most endangered species on the planet. At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia, but that number has decreased exponentially. Some estimates put the current population at well under 50,000. Indeed, very few rhinos survive outside national parks, nature reserves and zoos. Valued for their horns, they face a dire threat from poaching, which is rapidly pushing them towards extinction.
Earlier this year, a documentary called "Trophy" brought the issue of poaching to the limelight when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and later when it aired on CNN.
The film was co-directed by American filmmaker Christina Clusiau and Israeli documentarian Shaul Schwarz. "I think sometimes we believe that there's this utopian world in magical Africa that the animals just roam free and they live alone on these vast plains, but that's not the reality," said Clusiau. "This symbolism of what a trophy really is to different people I think is important. … One man's treasure is another man's trophy."
Schwarz joins fellow Israelis on a mission to shed light on poaching issues in Africa. In recent months, we profiled Ofir Drori, who is helping arrest the continent's worst wildlife traffickers, as well as a veterinarian named Yaron Schmid, who is photographing endangered animals to bring more awareness to their cause.
The Israeli safari has welcomed several baby rhinos in recent years. As for the new addition, she seems to be acclimating well. She enjoyed a frolic out in the open today with her mother. As for the baby's name? The zoo says there are looking for a name that starts with a "T" to match her mom Tanda.
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