One real advantage of zoos and aquariums is their ability to connect people to animals that most of us would rarely have the chance to see in the wild. A great example of this recently came across my desk here at the AZA offices in Silver Spring, Md. As editor of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) CONNECT magazine, I see a wide range of stories and announcements regarding AZA accredited institutions. Many focus on conservation efforts, exhibits and educational programs – and of course the many birth announcements that get submitted.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., recently published an announcement about their facility receiving two Indian rhinos. This immediately tweaked my interest – I have seen both black and white rhinos in the wild, but have not traveled to Asia and have only seen photos of Indian rhinos. The population of the Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), also called the greater one-horned rhinoceros or the Asian one-horned rhinoceros, has declined to about 3,000 animals in the wild, with roughly 2,000 of those living in India. Their numbers have been reduced by excessive hunting, poaching and habitat loss. Like their African counterparts, their horn is highly sought after. The species has been included on CITES Appendix I since 1975. Even if you traveled to India, you might not be guaranteed to see one in the wild.
You can, however, visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and see Fitzgerlad and Jontu. And I find that quite remarkable. There are 53 Indian rhinos in the AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP) in the United States and Canada. It is at those institutions that people who may never have the chance to travel to Asia can come face to face with such an amazing animal and learn about its habits, its habitat and the threats that it faces.
What is an SSP you ask? An SSP is an animal management program that strives to manage and conserve a select and typically threatened or endangered species population with the cooperation of AZA-accredited institutions. SSP programs develop a plan that identifies population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied population.
If you live in the Omaha area, take advantage of this unique opportunity to see a remarkable animal and take the opportunity to learn about the threats that it faces. Visit the zoo (www.omahazoo.com) and support a remarkable community based organization.