Conserving the Nature of America
Office of External Affairs

Enforcement Key to Saving the Rhino

Photo Slideshow Caption: Rhino. Credit: USFWS

The bird that sits on the back of a rhino cleaning it of ticks and other insects is called the oxpecker but sometimes it is referred to as the “rhino’s guard.” But the rhino needs more than birds to protect it. We can help. And we are.

Four of the five rhino species (Black, Sumatran, Javan, and Indian) surviving in the wild today are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and listed from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The northern white rhino is also listed as endangered under the ESA and critically endangered on the IUCN Red List; however the southern white rhino is not listed under the ESA, but is listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List. All Rhinos are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which the United States is a member.

Despite these legal protections, illegal trade on the global black market flourishes and continues to attract poachers. In fact, while big cats and elephants have killed rhinos and calves are often at risk from carnivores, rhinos have no true natural predators, save man.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a dedicated staff of Law Enforcement agents and inspectors who enforce national and international wildlife laws, including the interstate and foreign commerce provisions of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act.  Our agents work with other countries on training and monitoring trade activities, as well as investigate wildlife crimes that occur on U.S. soil.

The Service’s Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund provides grants throughout Africa and Asia to groups dedicated to improving the capacity of park guards and wildlife management authorities to address poaching and other threats to rhinos.

The fund supports training for “Scene of the Crime” workshops in several African countries.  This training will give wildlife rangers essential skills in handling and processing evidence in order to increase the likelihood of convicting criminals. It will also educate police, prosecutors and judges about the severity of wildlife crimes and the legal framework with which these offenses can be harshly punished.

In Zimbabwe, a grant is helping put together a workshop taught by rhino field practitioners and lawyers familiar with wildlife policy. Representatives of the police and the judiciary are scheduled to attend to get more information about the plight of the rhino and assistance necessary to increase the prosecution rate for wildlife crimes.

A project at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Malaysia will fight poaching by enabling Rhino Protection Units to patrol for at least 15 days per month in areas of highest risk to rhinos. They will not only protect against traps to apprehend suspected poachers but also forge links in the community because some of the conservation starts as a grass-roots effort.

In Nepal, our partners have been working with wildlife authorities, the police and the army to assist in the identification and arrest of the poachers. And in Indonesia, grants are working to cut poaching of Sumatran and Javan rhinos, whose combined populations total less than 300.

Besides eating bugs, the oxpecker is also said to raise an alert when it senses danger. We’ve heard the alarm and are answering the call.  For more information on rhinos, visit

Related Links:
Rhino Footage
"A Crash Course in Rhinos and Rhino Conservation"


Last updated: February 17, 2012
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