FROM ZOO TO YOU Celebrating rhinos and red pandas

By Emily Sexson

Every year, September seems to be full of events in our community. At the Lee Richardson Zoo, we are celebrating two great events on one day this month. Mark your calendars for Saturday, Sept.25, as we’ll have fun opportunities available throughout the day in honor of World Rhino Day and International Red Panda Day.

Our conservation days help bring awareness to endangered species while adding extra fun to your regular zoo visit.

World Rhino Day started with the World Wildlife Foundation in South Africa in 2010. The day is celebrated annually on Sept. 22. In 2011, the day grew into an international success when both African and Asian rhino species were highlighted. The event’s theme is “Five rhino species forever” or “keep the five alive” in honor of the current five species of rhino. The five rhinoceros species are the two African species; black rhinos, like those at LRZ, and white rhinos; and three Asian species; are the Sumatran rhino, the greater one-horned rhino, and the Javan rhino.

At the start of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed the wild; by 1979, their worldwide population fell to just 70,000. Today, there are fewer than 28,000 remaining in the world. With the bulk of the rhino population consisting of white rhinos, this species has made a successful comeback from endangerment thanks to conservation efforts.

The other four species are threatened with extinction. There are roughly five thousand black rhinos left, fewer than four thousand greater one-horned rhinos, less than eighty Sumatran rhinos, and only about seventy Javan rhinos left. Compared to their original numbers, black, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos are all considered critically endangered.

The biggest threat to rhinos is poaching. Poaching is illegal hunting. Rhinos are poached for their horn. Currently, the rate of poaching outpaces rhino births. Horns are poached to be sold on the black market. In Vietnam, consumers use the horn for supposed cures for everything from hangovers to cancers, as well as a show of wealth.

In China, consumers use the horn as a status symbol, and in traditional Asian medicine to reduce fever and treat other ailments. There is no scientific evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal value. It is made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails.

Habitat fragmentation caused by human development also threatens rhinos. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to all wildlife. The global red panda population has declined by 50% in 20 years, and there may be as few as 2,500 remaining in the wild. Rapid human population growth in the Eastern Himalayas is causing deforestation and the degradation and fragmentation of red panda habitats. International Red Panda Day also began in 2010 to bring attention to this endangered species. The day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of September.

Red pandas are the only species of their kind and were discovered some 50 years before the giant panda. Red pandas are shy, nocturnal animals. In the wild, they communicate primarily through scent markings. They forage for bamboo, fruits, and occasionally small animals along the forest floor. A special rotating ankle joint allows them to descend trees headfirst like a squirrel.

You can learn more about this awesome species at a Discovery Cart near their habitat at the zoo on Sept. 25th from 9 am to 11 am. Join us for a Keeper Chat at 9:30 a.m. at the red panda habitat to learn about what it takes to care for red pandas from the experts.

That same day, at 10:30 a.m., a special Rhino-themed Story Time will take place on the back patio of the Finnup Center for Conservation Education; a story will be read, and a take-home craft will be provided.

A discovery cart will be at the rhino habitat from 1:30 p.m .to 3:30 p.m., with a Keeper Chat held at 2:30 p.m. to learn more about the family of black rhinos residing at LRZ. Join us on Sept. 25 as we celebrate and learn more about helping the endangered red panda and black rhino.

Emily Sexson is a communication specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.