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Cincinnati Zoo forms team of rhino experts to save species with science

The Cincinnati Zoo hopes this program will set a precedent for saving species with science in zoos.
Credit: Cincinnati Zoo

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Zoo is building a team of the best and brightest rhinoceros experts to save the species. 

The zoo's Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) is teaming up with five partner research facilities to form the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS).

The research partners include The Wilds, Disney's Animal Kingdom, George Mason University, the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction & Conservation, and Stellenbosch University, South Africa. 

"By bringing together a diverse team of the brightest minds in rhino science, I am confident that we can overcome the challenges to sustaining thriving rhino populations within our nation's zoos," said Dr. Terri Roth, vice president of conservation and science at the Cincinnati Zoo and director of CREW.

The team will work to overcome the four greatest scientific challenges to sustaining rhino populations within the United States' zoos:

  1. Physical fitness and its relation to health 
  2. Iron storage in browsing rhinos
  3. Reproductive success
  4. Behavioral and environmental factors that can maximize rhino well-being

AIRS scientists will collect data over the course of three years and that data will be compiled in a centralized database accessible to all AIRS members.

Roth said this kind of close collaboration, transparency, and data-sharing is uncommon in the scientific arena but it will be key to new discoveries and valuable answers to the most pressing questions as to how to save the rhinos.

Ultimately, AIRS will provide affordable and feasible management recommendations to veterinarians and animal care staff at the 74 accredited zoos caring for rhinos.

Roth hopes this research model can be used to save other species at risk of extinction, too. 

"Accredited zoos are committed to saving wildlife from extinction while providing the highest standard of animal care. AIRS will set a precedent for saving species in zoos with science, a model with value for all zoo species at risk in the wild," Roth said.