If being an endangered species was a support group, there’d be a lot of fighting over chairs.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists almost 20,000 threatened species.
But you know who’d always get a chair? The rhino.
And really, rhinos are super important because they function kind of like a “sponsor” at an AA meeting — helping other animals make it.
There are five species of rhino, spread throughout Africa and Asia. In general, rhinos would really love nothing more than to be left alone to eat, sleep, and make more, smaller rhinos to carry on their rhino legacies. But life isn’t fair.
Thanks to a demand for rhino horns and humans deciding that prime rhino habitat is a really good place for some shopping malls, their numbers have been falling. The rhino population has gotten so small that some places are using drones and private armies to protect them.
Some types of rhinos, like the southern white rhino, are still relatively numerous. But others, like the Sumatran and Javan rhinos, number less than 100. There may be only three northern white rhinos left.
This is, unfortunately, a story familiar to a lot of species.
Even more unfortunately, not all of these other species have the star power or recognition that a rhino does. Some are not well-known and some are just, uh…
…not as photogenic.
But here’s the good news: Saving a rhino does something kind of magical.
Saving a plot of land for rhinos helps save all their neighbors too. It’s a total bargain, a kind of two-for-one deal for protecting the animal kingdom, but involving otters, weasels, and leopards!
Protecting rhinos helps lots of other animals, like this pinecone-looking pangolin!
You may have never heard of them, but pangolins may be the world’s most trafficked mammal. The same protected areas and anti-poaching laws passed to protect big stars like rhinos may help save them too.
But wait, there’s more! Because there’s more than one species of rhino!
Protecting the habitat of the Sumatran rhino also helps protect this adorable family of Asian small-clawed otters, for instance.
And this nappy binturong (aka the weasel version of Wilford Brimley):
Fun fact: Binturongs laugh when they’re happy and smell like popcorn.
And this clouded leopard!
Why is saving the rhino such a powerful choice when it comes to saving animals?
Rhinos need a lot of space. A pair of female white rhinos can have a home territory of up to about 12 square miles, so keeping a healthy rhino population means setting aside a lot of land.
But rhinos aren’t the only ones that live on that land, so protecting just one pair of rhinos also means protecting a host of their smaller neighbors. Regulations to prevent poaching and trafficking often help save other animals too. Their ability to protect their neighboring species means rhinos are crucial for their ecosystems.
That’s why for everyone out there who loves to save coupons or is always on the hunt for an amazing deal, saving a rhino is a total bargain.
So a lot of animals might be happy to have a superstar neighbor like a rhino around.
Even if it means giving up their seat at the next endangered species meeting.