World Rhino Day 2013

I thought I’d do a quick update on rhinos here on Zygoma, since the theft of their horns from museum collections is something that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while.

For the museum professionals out there it has been tough, with more thefts taking place since I published on the situation from a museum perspective at the end of 2011. On a more heartening note, there have been more arrests as well.

Of course, things have been far tougher on the rhino populations.

Poaching rates in South Africa show a steep increase since 2009, when the new wave in poaching was started after a rumour that a Vietnamese official was cured of liver cancer using powdered horn. It will be interesting to see whether the increase in poaching rate will follow the trend of the last few years, following the recent arrest of a man reputed to be one of the kingpins of the poaching and smuggling operation from South Africa.

rhino_poaching_prediction

Since the boom in poaching, rhino populations have been in decline around the world. In some cases that decline has been very rapid. In 2011 the Western Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes Zukowsky, 1949) was declared extinct and the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus Desmarest, 1822) now only has one surviving subspecies, made up of maybe 40 individuals. All of this because of a single story about cancer.

As with most anecdotal claims for cancer cures (from use of vitamins to homoeopathy) there is no good evidence that rhino horn has any effect. Spontaneous remission happens and, assuming the story about the Vietnamese official contained any shred of truth there were probably numerous other treatments being used at the same time, making it impossible to identify which treatment had any effect.

If rhino horn was effective, then you might expect the countries that use it, like China, to have a lower cancer mortality rate than other parts of the world – but this is not the case. Even practitioners of Traditional Asian Medicine have explicitly stated that there is no evidence that rhino horn can cure cancer.

Moreover, if rhino horn did have any effect on a cancer, that effect should also be found by using powdered cattle hooves – a cheaper and more sustainable product. Rhino horn use is not sustainable at all. If the poaching rates continue to increase as they have been, my very quick and dirty calculations suggest that rhinos could be extinct in South Africa in as little as 10 years.

predicted_SA_rhino_decline

This is why it’s so important to raise awareness of the problems facing rhinos and communicate the fact that rhino horn is not a cure for cancer. Time is potentially very short for the populations that remain.

Friday mystery object #178 answer

On Friday I gave you this piece of a skeleton to identify, to help me track down the specimen it came from:

mystery178

It looks like a wing, but it’s quite oddly shaped. The humerus is strongly curved and the humeral head is small with a very limited area for muscle attachment. This suggests that it wasn’t much use for flying – it also wouldn’t have been much use for swimming underwater or any other kind of locomotion for that matter. This narrows down the possibilities quite a bit.

With these clues RH, henstridgesj and Lena all came to the same conclusion as I did – this wing is from a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #166 answer

On Friday I gave you this great skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

A big list of you (Mieke RothJakemcarnall, Anthony wilkes, 23thorns, Cam Weir, henstridgesj, Rhea, leigh and Robin) managed to work out what this specimen was from and there were some really interesting explanations about how you came to your conclusions in response to Steven D. Garber’s comment:

Now, I’d like it even more if people explained why this skull looks the way it does.

This is a really interesting thing to consider, as it underlies the process of recognition and identification. As a biologist I might start by saying that the lacrimal foramina is on the edge of the orbit (as henstridgesj pointed out) which is indicative of a marsupial and that the dentition is indicative of a carnivorous mammal that isn’t a member of the placental Carnivora as it lacks carnassials, plus the dental formula appears to be ‘primitive’ from the photo ?.1.3.4/?.1.2.4 which narrows down the possibilities to just a few marsupial carnivores, and given the scale of the skull there is just one that fits the bill.

However, if I’m honest I’d say that the overall shape and robust structure of this specimen is very similar to specimens I’ve seen before belonging to the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #162 answer

On Friday I gave you this interesting cranium to identify:

Everyone recognised it as belonging to a fish, but the species was a bit more difficult to identify. Nonetheless jackashby, hestridgesj, Ric Morris and Cody all correctly converged on it being from an  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #161 answer

On Friday I gave you this bird skull to identify:

Most of you managed to identify it pretty easily – Robin suggested something in the right family, while Ric Morris, henstridgesj, Matthew King and Jake all managed to work it out to species. This is the skull of a  Continue reading

Rhinos at risk

I know I’ve discussed the situation regarding rhino horn before, but I recently had an article published in NatSCA News that goes into a bit more detail about the thefts of rhino horn from collections in Europe, the current status of rhino populations in the wild and the huge increase in levels of poaching. I thought it might be useful to share the article a bit more widely by making it available here: The Horns of a Dilemma: The Impact of the Illicit Trade in Rhino Horn.

rhino-dehorned via everything.co.za

 

Normally NatSCA News articles are published online a year or so after they are published in hard copy, but the article I wrote will be out of date by then and I will have to spend the next year or so getting annoyed by newspaper articles talking about the market for horn as an aphrodisiac (which is nonsense), without being able to easily share the results of my research into the subject.

One element of my research has been a map that shows the places in Europe from which rhino horn has been stolen in the last 18 months or so (I will keep updating it):

The situation for rhinos is bad and it’s getting worse.

Friday mystery object #127 answer

Apologies for a somewhat belated answer to last week’s mystery object – Christmas and all that…

I gave you these two unidentified objects from the Horniman Museum collections, so you could have a go at identifying them:

I was not disappointed either – Jake recognised that they were upper molars or premolars from a grazing animal and Rhea identified the animal in this cryptic clue:

If the owner of these teeth could market and sell a coffee, would it be interested in a label with a *unicorn* mascot that comes in the sumatran or javan blends? Continue reading