Aired Sunday October 18th, 2009 at 7:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
Indian Rhino and Calf
They are hulking beasts from prehistory, virtually unchanged for over 25 million years. Once they roamed the Earth in millions, numbering hundreds of species of all shapes and sizes, but today the rhinoceros is one of the planet's rarest animals. They've been poached and slaughtered for the black-market value of their horns. Of the remaining five species - the black, white, Indian, Javan and Sumatran rhino - three are perilously close to extinction. NATURE goes on a global mission to film each species and the fascinating strategies used to protect them when "Rhinoceros" airs Sunday, October 18, at 7 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7. Actor Daniel Stern narrates.
"Rhinoceros" offers fascinating scenes of their behavior in the wild, including an Indian rhino's pulse-quickening charge at an encroaching NATURE filmmaker. "Very ugly brutes to look at" was how the 13th-century explorer Marco Polo described the Indian rhino, disappointed that Rhinoceros unicornis was not the mythical unicorn. Today, the rangers of Kaziranga National Park risk their lives protecting the "brutes" - scars from rhino horns and jaws prove it - but their vigilance has paid off. Poaching there has decreased by more than 80 percent, lifting the park's rhino population to more than 1,600.
In Indonesia, NATURE's cameras spy an extremely rare Javan rhino, one of merely 50 or 60 still alive. On the island of Sumatra, a Rhino Protection Unit carefully disables a poacher's snare before spotting the equally elusive Sumatran rhino. The nimblest and smallest of the five species, the Sumatran is about the height of a Great Dane.
Breeding rhinos in captivity can also provide a critical backup to endangered wild populations. At the Cincinnati Zoo, rhino fertility experts achieve a tremendous breakthrough, the first-ever birth in captivity of a Sumatran rhino, a crucial step for the future of this critically endangered species. In addition, they employ human reproductive technology - ultrasounds and artificial insemination - to successfully breed the Indian rhino.
In South Africa, NATURE closely follows an expert game-capture team as it tranquilizes a black rhino and implants an identity microchip and radio transmitter in its horn. The job is part of an ambitious effort to move black rhinos from Umfolozi National Park, where they are overabundant, to new habitats across the continent, where poaching has decimated 96 percent of the population.
Surprisingly, the white rhino's name isn't about its color. It's a mistranslation of the original Dutch settler name for the creature, "wide rhino," which actually referred to its vast mouth. Once thought extinct, a small population of white rhinos was discovered in Umfolozi in 1895 and, thanks to protected status, became the first species ever taken off the endangered list. "Rhinoceros" offers an up-close study of white rhinos and their unique role in the South African savannah ecosystem.
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