Rhinoceros are not just animals of savannah and desert as we established in the first two installments of this series (Pt. 1, Pt. 2).
These great animals inhabit moist forest and even highland areas in Africa and in Asia, most of the remnant rhino populations are in dense forest or mountainous areas.
African rhinos get a fair amount of mainstream wildlife coverage but their cousins in Asia get almost none which was a big inspiration for me to do this series.
The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are as on the edge of extinction as any animal on the planet, but not everything in Asia is bad.
In fact, in India, there has been quite a turnaround in the population of Indian or one-horned rhinos according to officials with the World Wildlife Fund.
Both range countries, India and Nepal, have been very successful in expanding greater one-horned rhino numbers from around 200 individuals at the turn of the 20th century to a total of around 3,500 today.
Vigorous anti-poaching patrols and successful translocations from one area to another has brought the species back from the brink of extinction.
In Africa, rhino farming has been extremely successful in South Africa and hunter-based iniatives including “green hunting” where rhinos are darted and sperm is collected to artifiically insimiate rhinos in other areas have proven successful especially for white rhinos.
But the situation is very serious out there on the poaching end. The Asian demand has not ceased. Here are a few standouts to show how much effort it takes to keep rhinos in existence.
*Zoo Poaching: A rhino was poached for its horns at a zoo in France in 2016. “Rhino poaching has historically targeted wild populations,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation in a 2016 news release.
“This is the first such known poaching incident at a zoo. Criminal networks fairly recently began targeting museum specimens in Europe. Zoos, as living museums, now are also at risk. In response to the Paris rhino killing, we urge all zoological facilities to take serious measures to keep their rhinos safe.”
Terror Cells: It is believed major poaching syndicates are in league with terror groups using funds from rhino horns and ivory to help fund their activities. If you think dealing with poachers is bad, think about it being tied in with terrorists.
Assasinations: Lt-Col Leroy Bruwer, 49, a top rhino poaching ring investigator died in a hail of bullets in Mbombela on the R37 connecting Mbombela and Lydenburg March 18, 2020.
The people protecting rhinos and working for their conservation are doing incredible work and deserve our prayers and support both in awareness-raising and finances.
Below are some groups doing great work for rhinos.
The giant ungulates are truly wonders of Creation and are also among the planet’s most critically endangered animals.
In part 1 of our series we established that these animals are not only dwellers of savannah and desert but also inhabit forest and mountainous areas in Africa.
Africa has two species, the black and white (square-lipped) rhinoceros and of those two the black had the largest historical range.
That wide-ranging distribution included several now extinct subspecies including the western black rhinoceros which the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) deemed extinct in 2011 after a search in heavily-forested Cameroon proved fruitless.
The eastern black rhino is often found in highland forest and like all rhinos will inhabit savannah as well.
Like all black rhinos, these are browsers which mean they prefer eating from bushes, trees and other woody vegetations whereas grazers eat grass and low vegetation. Forests offer ample grazing opportunties as well as cover.
That’s why account for exact black rhino numbers in forested nations is challenging. Helicopter, drone and airplane surveys are not as effective as they are on the savannahs.
White rhinos prefer open areas more than their darker-colored and smaller cousins but will spend time in forested areas, especially if they find a good mud hole or trees to use for a rubbing post. (To scractch that itch.)
Sumatran rhinos are even more critically endangered than their African cousins with fewer than 100 left in the wild according to Save The Rhino International (STI). These rhinos are the smallest of all but they are incredibly agile.
Sumatran rhinos can run fast and are very agile. They climb mountains easily and can negotiate very steep slopes and riverbanks. With the protection provided by the horns and rims of hard skin and cartilage on nose and head, they can easily break through the densest vegetation, leaving round tunnels
These Javan rhino is in even worse shape in terms of population wtih only single population of around 70 animals believed to exist in the wild. These animals which currently live in dense forest once had an incredible distribution according to STI.
Javan rhinos used to live in a variety of tropical landscapes, both lowland and highland, from the mangroves of the Sunderbans in India and Bangladesh, the mountains of southern China, to the sub-montane shrubs on the highest volcanoes of Java. The Javan rhino probably had a wider ecological range than either its larger relative, the greater one-horned rhino, or its compatriot, the Sumatran rhino.
The reason for this series is to give a look at overlooked aspects of African rhinos and their range and to bring awareness to those forest-dwellers in Asia that are far closer to extinction than even those in Africa.
For whatever reason they get almost no attention from the corporate wildlife media. This is our way of shining some light on a dark spot in wildlife conservation.
In the next and final article in the series we will examine an Asian rhino that is on the rebound and look at some conservation project that could radically change the trajectory of rhino populations in Africa for the better.
Rhinoceros are some of the most iconic and endangered animals on the planet.
Facing outright slaughter by poachers seeking highly valuable horns for trade in the Asian traditional medicine market, they are animals of very special concern.
When thinking of rhinos it is hard not to imagine them in the open savanna or desert settings often depicted on television. And yes, those areas in southern Africa are crucial to both white and black rhinoceros and their subspecies.
But did you know rhinos are also an animal of the forest and even the mountains? Or at least they were in many areas before poachers decimated them.
Black rhinos live in the montane forests of Kenya, an ecoregion that has several separate areas up to 2000 meters in elevation.
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in recent years has imported rhinos to once again inhabit their former range in the small, landlocked country that has a mix of forest, savanna, and mountains.
I first got an interest in learning more about rhinos in thicker forest habitat after watching an episode of my friend Austin Steven’s brilliant program Austin Stevens Adventures.
In the episodeIn the Shadow of Armored Giants, he sought black and white rhinos in the Mkhaya game reserve in Eswatini. The scenes of him in some super thick forests approaching rhinos at an incredibly close distance was quite inspiring.
I reached out to Stevens to get some of his thoughts on his rhino encounters since his groundbreaking footage probably gave the best glimpse into rhinos I have ever seen on a television program.
I have been fortunate to observe the behavior of the two species found in Southern Africa, the so-called white rhino (more accurately, the square-lipped rhino) and the black rhino. Of the two, the black rhino is generally the slightly smaller, and known for its more aggressive nature. The white rhino, on the other hand, while of course also being potentially dangerous, has a far more subdued demure. Both are amazingly well camouflaged in natural bush and can be easily missed on a game drive, in spite of their size. If on foot in the bush, one encounters a white rhino, there is usually time and opportunity to slowly back away and avoid confrontation. Should one however, enter into close proximity with a black rhino, then basically it is already too late, and disaster might be the result.
As described in his latest book, Running Wild, Stevens experienced a close encounter with each of the species.
One saw me awakened each night in my tent as a white rhino stomped, pounded and pulverized, with great gusto, my entrance mat, rendering me terrified inside the flimsy walls of the tent. It seemed that my tent had unknowingly been erected within the rhino’s terrain. A lesson well learned.
The black rhino encounter was a little scarier.
As for my black rhino encounter, as is typical, I had no idea the animal was present until it charged out of the thicket and sent me scurrying for my life up a leaning tree, thankfully within reach. A few snorts and a few jabs at my feet, just out of reach, and the animal seemed to be satisfied that it had secured its territory, and it turned around and disappeared once more back into the thicket from which it had emerged. I was pretty shaken, and another lesson learned. All in a day’s work for a wildlife photographer.
I would never have considered some of the dense forest rhinos can inhabit if I had not seen Stevens episode and read his book. They inspired this series of articles and to look deeper into where rhinos used to roam.
As a photographer, rhinos are at the very top of my list of African game I would like to photograph.
Seeing them in the distant savannah and approaching in a Land Rover is one thing but to get close to them in a thick, forested setting is another.
In the next edition, we will look at some of the surprisingly high elevations rhinos can roam and look into what is happening with them in the more forested regions of west-central Africa.
And we will conclude the series with how innovative conservation measures are bringing hope for these armored giants.
3 friends on fishing trip killed in ‘massacre,’ Florida sheriff says
That headline from last weekend shook me to the core as I just broadcast a radio program about the dangers of encountering bad people on fishing and hunting expeditions. And I have recently written a series of articles on the topic here at Higher Calling.
Polk County, Fla. Sheriff Grady Judd, who has worked at the department since 1972, described the killings as a “massacre.”
“This is a horrific scene,” Judd said in an article at Yahoo News. “I’ve been to a lot of murder scenes in my life, and this ranks among the worst.”
Three friends had gathered to go fish at a remote location and had been friends for years. The victims had been beaten and shot.
Describing the “quiet, quaint” community surrounded by groves, forest and cattle ranches, Judd said the area was “about as far out in the woods as you can get.”
I started writing the Deep Woods Dangers series and doing broadcasts on the topic at “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and the Higher Calling podcast two years ago.
It was inspired by a question someone asked me at a seminar.
“Chester, what’s the most dangerous thing you’ve encountered in the woods?”
Without blinking I said, “people”.
This was because of dangerous encounters with people I have had fishing, hunting, and exploring in remote locations. Once I started sharing my stories, others came forth with theirs.
The idea is to let people know they should be extremely cautious in remote locations.
#Bad Vibes: If you feel bad about going into an area don’t go. I am a follower of Christ. I believe sometimes this is the Holy Spirit telling me to stay away. You may nota I elieve that, but just call it a “gut feeling” and go with it.
#Never Alone: As much as I love to be in the distant forest alone with my camera—don’t you do it. Always bring someone along. Preferably someone who is experienced in the woods. You are far more likely to get hurt by evil people if you are alone and in the case of these three young men, even going together didn’t help.
#Pack Heat: If it’s legal where you are then use your Second Amendment right, and carry a firearm. Make sure you are trained in its use and be prepared to do what is necessary.
Better you defend yourself against a maniac than become a statistic. Also, carry a large knife with you. In close quarters it could save your life.
#Study the Area: The Internet is a great tool for studying areas. If you find out an area is a high drug trafficker area for, for example; avoid it like the plague. Stay away!
As society continues to crumble, especially in light of COVID-19 related economic problems, more things like this will likely happen. Evil runs rampant in dark times and it is my goal to prepare good people for what is going on out there.
We should not be afraid of venturing into the woods and on the water but we need to be real and realize there are very real human dangers out there.
By the grace of God and keeping a cool head, I have made it out of several situations where I likely could have been killed.
Bears & Others Carnivores, an edition of the iconic Wide World of Animals series was one of my favorite books growing up.
I would read it and gaze at the photos for hours while imagining encountering these creatures in the wild.
One photo, however, always made me chuckle a little.
It was a sloth bear, native to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal and it looked like someone gave a really bad poodle hair cut to a skinny black bear.
Sloth bears are indeed unusual with a shaggy black coat, long, curved claws, and a pale-colored “v’ or “y” pattern on their chest. These bears typically weigh between 200-300 pounds at adulthood and specialize in eating fruit, termites, and honeycombs.
The name sloth bear comes from the original western description of the species according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
The first valid scientific description of this species was by George Shaw in 1791. He called it Ursine bradypus, ursine meaning bearlike and bradypus meaning slow foot. Bradypus is also the genus of three species of sloth. At the time, Shaw thought that the bear was related to a sloth. Time and additional specimens eventually revealed the true taxonomic relationships, but the confusing common name remains.
Although the name implies the slow, chill nature of a sloth, these bears are anything but that.
There are more attacks from sloth bear any other bear species as they are easily agitated and live in a region where there are huge human populations moving in and out of their forest habitat.
In a 2018 study entitled Sloth Bear Attacks on Humans in Central India: Implications for Species Conservation researchers Singh, Sonone, and Dharaiya, noted an increase in sloth bear attacks in India.
Sloth bears are known for their aggressive and unpredictable behavior. More human fatalities and injuries have been attributed to sloth bear attacks than all recorded incidences of wildlife attacks in Buldhana Forest Division of Maharashtra, India. We interviewed 51 victims that were attacked by sloth bears between 2009-2017 to better understand the reasons for the attacks.
Thirty-four of the attacks (66.7%) resulted in serious injuries, and there were seven human mortalities (13.7%) reported. Most attacks occurred close to agricultural fields (66.7%) and during midday (1100–1400 hours).
More attacks (64.7%) occurred when a person was working or resting in the field, or retrieving water for the field followed by attacks while watching over grazing livestock (13.7%). Individuals aged 31 to 40 years (35.3%) were the most common victims of sloth bear attacks. Half of the attacks were during monsoon season (July to October, 51%) followed by summer (March to June, 35%) and winter (November to February, 14%). In 39% of cases, a single bear was involved while females with 2 cubs were found to be involved in 37% of attacks.
According to the International Union For Conservation Of Nature (IUCN), sloth bears population status is “vulnerable”, meaning they are not yet threatened or endangered but a variety of factors could change that quickly.
One of those factors is conflicts with people. It can be hard to get people behind an animal that attacks and sometimes kills people but it can be done especially when measures can be taken to greatly reduce incidents.
The odd sloth bear is not likely to become the symbol of any sports franchise or restaurant chain but they certainly deserve to be conserved and managed like all other bear species.
I still laugh a bit thinking about the photo of the extra poofy-haired sloth bear in my book as a kid but after learning more about them I wouldn’t want to laugh in their presence.
Argali are the largest and arguably most regal wild sheep on the planet.
Inhabiting areas ranging from the Gobi desert to the Himalayas, these massive mountain ungulates are prized by hunters and revered by wildlife lovers.
They face many threats ranging from warming temperatures causing degradation of alpine habitat in Tajikistan to highly organized poaching in several countries.
A study conducted in the Ikh Nart Nature Preserve in Mongolia presents a real threat that is flying under the radar of wild sheep management.
According to researchers, they tracked collared argali for a minimum of two weeks each month, and survival was monitored daily with binoculars and telemetry. All collars were equipped with mortality sensors. When an individual animal was found dead, a necropsy was performed to determine the cause of death and the surrounding area was searched for additional clues.
They said in cases of predation, attempts were made to identify the predator species. Potential predators of argali include wolves, free-roaming dogs, foxes, and snow leopards.
Fox and snow leopard kills could normally be distinguished from those of other predators by a combination of signs, including the tracks, scat, and the distance between puncture wounds. However, kills made by either a wolf or by free-roaming or feral dogs could not be distinguished confidently in all cases, and were classified only as canid.
They said dog predation in the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve was responsible for between 2.7 and 34.2 percent of GPS (global positioning system)-collared argali deaths. Although only 2.7 percent were positively identified as dog kills, wolves were sighted just six times in eight years whereas free-roaming dogs were frequently observed.
We also found or observed five uncollared argali killed by free-roaming dogs during the study period. The deaths of radio-collared argali during this study therefore suggest that dogs may be a large source of mortality.
Feral dogs are present in a huge portion of the variety of argali subspecies range as well as that of snow sheep and wild goats.
Since these researchers have been extremely cautious in putting blame on dogs and have shown they are a big part of the mortality equation in this particular preserve it begs the following questions.
How much do feral dogs impact wild sheep in other areas of Asia?
Do feral dogs do some of the killing blamed on wolves in certain areas? (Remember researchers said feral dogs were “frequently seen” and wolves were seen only six times in eight years in the study area.)
Could organized control of feral dogs have a positive and practical impact on argali?
Feral dogs are a threat to wildlife and to people. I have personally had two harrowing encounters with feral dogs and have spoken with wildlife managers as well as ranchers who have major problems with feral dogs.
I never considered them as a threat to argali but they might just be ones that are having a bigger impact than we ever imagined. Hopefully, research in other areas can shed light on this issue that would be much easier to address than things like climate change.
(Researchers for this study included Julie K. Young, Kirk A. Olson, Richard P. Reading, Sukh Amgalanbaatar, Joel Berger. The study was first published in Bioscience magazine.)
We will have more on that in a special report soon.
Until then my close friend and research partner Todd Jurasek got some incredible game camera videos of black bears in the Kiamichi Mountains in Southeastern Oklahoma, showing the Sooner State has a burgeoning bear population in some areas.
People in states that have had large bear populations for decades like Oregon, Montana, and Alaska understand these animals but all forest-loving Americans need to become bear aware and realize these apex animals are increasing in the southern and eastern portions of the country.
Enjoy these awesome clips. This is just the beginning of an epic summer of bear coverage from around the globe.
For the second time in less than a week, officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD have released a statement on increased bear activity in the state. The last one as reported here involved sightings in the Trans Pecos.
The new reports are from Northeast Texas along the Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana borders.
Since April, there has been an uptick in black bear sightings in Bowie, Grayson and Titus counties in northeast Texas. The bears are thought to originate from the neighboring states of Oklahoma and Arkansas, or possibly Louisiana, where resident bear populations are well established and expanding. As the numbers of this iconic species grows, dispersing black bears find their way across state lines into Texas, signaling the possibility of its eventual permanent return to our landscape.
“It is inspiring as a biologist to watch these animals make their return to Northeast Texas after being absent for a century or more,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist, Penny Wilkerson.
“Bears do not generally pose a threat to pets or livestock. These critters are omnivores and are more interested in berries, grubs, and acorns than anything else,” Wilkerson said.
The last time TPWD sent out a press release regarding black bears was 2017 and there was another in 2016. Before that, the last release was in 2012.
For TPWD to send out two releases in a week shows there is a major change in bear activity and likely some kind of bear emphasis coming from the department.
The lack of activity in the woods, state parks, and wildlife management areas due to COVID-19 this spring has in my opinion given bears a little more leeway in the woods and emboldened the animals in areas where they have been lurking in the shadows for a number of years.
A recent report from just across the border in Oklahoma shows landowners frustrated with the amount of bear activity. And one of my research partners Todd Jurasek got numerous bears including a 400 plus pound bruin on video in the Kiamichi Mountains along the Texas-Oklahoma corridor.
I will be posting those videos soon along with a massive update on bear sightings by county in Texas.
“There has been a flurry of bear activity in the Trans-Pecos recently. Reports of black bears wandering into Fort Davis, Alpine, and Fort Stockton were received this past week on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively,” said Michael Janis, TPWD Trans-Pecos District Leader.
Black bears are generally shy, reclusive creatures but there comes a point when populations grow when that can change.
There is no hunting pressure in Texas and Mexico so there is no reason to fear people. In these situations, they may begin approaching human habitations and dry conditions like west Texas is facing now will amplify the issue.
My concern is Texans are not bear aware.
To most encountering bears is something that might happen once-in-a-lifetime when they visit Yellowstone or in the Smoky Mountains.
And these Texas bears are not just in the Trans Pecos.
For more than a decade I have recorded sightings in the Hill Country, South Texas, and along the Middle Coast. The East Texas bear population is a different issue and we will touch more on that next week but there are increasing sightings in the eastern third of the state as well.
Texans need to understand a few things about these unexpected inhabitants of its wildlands.
The following is from TPWD.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and much of their behavior is driven by their appetite. These natural characteristics can, however, become a problem when bears find an easy meal from a human-related source such as garbage, pet food or corn from a deer feeder. If over time a bear continually finds food around humans, it can become habituated, losing its fear of people and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Fellow hunters, we are now in the off-season. If you have a bear hitting a feeder, a good option is to shut it down and let the bear move on. Feeding in an area might keep the bear around and give you problems with your feeder (they’ll tear it up) or maybe an unwanted up close and personal encounter.
Another option is electricity.
Bears are sensitive to electricity however, so electric fences can be used to prevent bears from accessing feeders while still allowing deer to reach them because of their ability to jump the fence. Although an added cost, electric fencing can pay for itself in the prevention of lost feed and damage to a feeder.
TPWD biologists say education is the best way to prevent human-bear conflicts
Residents in areas where bears have been spotted should secure anything that could be a potential attractant (e.g. garbage, pet food, bird and deer feeders, etc.). Residents can also choose to invest in bear proof garbage dumpsters, a recourse that many communities in the western U.S. have deployed to reduce or prevent bear encounters. Double-bagging garbage to reduce odors and keeping bags in a secure location until the morning of trash pickup are also encouraged practices. Similarly, TPWD biologists recommend feeding pets inside or limiting pet food portions to an amount that can be consumed completely at each feeding.
Black bears are potentially dangerous animals. And while they are not likely to attack, their ferocity upon attack can be fatal.
In a story in the March/April 2020 edition of Sports Afield, I outlined a surprising study on black bear attack behavior.
A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.
Here is the standout quote.
“We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 percent of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92 percent of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears.”
There are a couple of things that should jump out at outdoor lovers here.
If you are attacked by a black bear you must fight back. While many grizzly attacks are territorial or perhaps because the grizzly didn’t like you way you looked that day, most black bear attacks are predatory and nearly all of the fatal ones are. Play dead for grizzlies. Fight like crazy against a black bear.
Big male bears are the biggest threat. If you see one in an area or have game camera photos of one, take extra precautions.
Black bears are protected in Texas, so hunters should keep that in mind and especially when hunting hogs in areas with bear sightings at night. A bear could easily look like a hog hitting a bait pile especially if you are using night vision or thermal imaging.
Black bears returning to Texas is exciting but everyone needs to stay informed. I will continue coverage here as the great American bear returns to the Lone Star State and shows up in places where few expect to see them.
(TPWD is requesting bear sighting information. Click here to find a biologist in your area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to send bear photos and videos.)
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