Cinco de Rhino

[dcwsb inline="true"]

One way to help rhinos? Throw a party!

It sure seems like we are having a party, but this is serious, official rhino conservation business! May was a particularly busy month for rhino conservation, and the keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park contributed the best way possible by throwing a happy hour event! A couple of weeks ago, the Safari Park’s rhino keepers hosted the first-ever Cinco de Rhino event at Hacienda de Vega in Escondido. Although the International Rhino Foundation has been celebrating Cinco de Rhino for four years, this was the first year we hosted a celebration. There were friends, food, drinks, and prizes, and all of the proceeds directly support Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in South Africa!

At the Safari Park, we carefully observe our animals every day, monitor their health and behavior, and attentively follow up on any concerns. In Asia and South Africa, Rhino Protection Units guard some of the wild populations of rhinos. Their trained staff are the front lines of defense against poaching. The job is risky and dangerous, yet very necessary. And we are here to help support them. In zoos, rhinos act as ambassadors for their species, demonstrating their beauty and importance. In their natural environments, they are an integral puzzle piece in a symbiotic relationship with nature, acting as gardeners for the forest by dispersing seeds to help maintain biodiversity. Rhinos are a flagship species, and saving them can influence an entire ecosystem.

It’s a pretty scary time for wild rhinos right now; they are incredibly threatened by poachers and the insatiable mis-belief that rhino horn is a cure for cancer. Rhino poaching is now conducted as organized crime and is a deadly threat to the future of this species. The latest tally of rhinos poached in South Africa is 227 this year alone, and the number keeps growing. Approximately 1 rhino is poached every 18 hours! It’s hard to sit back and watch the disappearance of these prehistoric creatures, and that’s why we are not sitting here—we’re partying!

An array of items were auctioned off to raise money for Rhino Protection Units.

While party guests sipped drinks, relaxed in the secluded seating areas, and mingled among tables of exciting and highly coveted prizes, we raised $4,489.37 for the International Rhino Foundation’s RPUs. More specifically, the money purchased 2 GPS units, 2 digital cameras, several transponders, and over $2,000 to be used at the Foundation’s discretion.

Initially, when we started planning the event, we hoped to gather donations for prizes and sell tickets to 200 people. Rhinos are so popular here at the Safari Park, and we have such a supportive organization, that we quickly sold out! It was an exciting night; we raffled off T-shirts, gift baskets, and tote bags to many lucky winners. The silent auction featured a private field tour at the Safari Park and paintings created by the rhinos themselves. Finally, our fearless supervisors volunteered their time by auctioning off their services, such as helping keepers complete some of their daily tasks, like loading a few hundred pounds of feed onto our trucks and completing tedious paperwork that is a necessary part of our job. It’s a nice reminder that our love of animals, and our goal to protect them, brings us all together, working toward wildlife conservation.

The Cinco de Rhino planning committee extends its sincere appreciation to everyone who attended and supported this event to benefit rhino conservation. I’d also like to give special thanks to Charlie Hyde, Jennifer Minichino, and Matt Gelvin for helping pull the event together. We are already looking forward to next year’s event, which will be held on May 5, 2013, at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego. All are welcome to attend!

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Ungulates: Underdogs of the Zoo World.

Follow Jonnie’s tweets on the Safari Park’s Twitter!