Singapore Zoo aims to educate visitors about plight of rhinos, at risk of extinction

Junior animal management officer Matthias Quek helping Cedric Tan from Odyssey the Global Preschool feed Shova, the rhino, at the Singapore Zoo. Sept 22 is World Rhino Day.
Junior animal management officer Matthias Quek helping Cedric Tan from Odyssey the Global Preschool feed Shova, the rhino, at the Singapore Zoo. Sept 22 is World Rhino Day.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

It aims to educate visitors about plight of rhinos, at risk of extinction

Imagine being massacred for your nails.

This is the reality facing rhinos today. They are being poached to the edge of extinction for their horns.

"People consuming rhino horns may as well be eating... fingernails as the two are made of the same material," said a spokesman for Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs the Singapore Zoo.

Hair, feathers, hoofs, claws and horns are all made up of a fibrous protein called keratin.

To mark World Rhino Day, which falls on Sept 22, the zoo is launching a month-long programme to educate visitors on rhino conservation.

They are encouraged to donate their nail clippings to a "Jar of Nails" as a gesture of support for conservation efforts.

Teacher Melissa Cumming, 35, visiting from Australia, said: "It sounded a little bit odd, cutting our nails. But after knowing it's the same material as horns, I think everyone should do it."

The jar will be available every weekend until Oct 19. After the programme ends, it will be kept for educational programmes.

Last year, 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa, home to more than 25,000 of the animals or about 75 per cent of the world's rhino population.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers all five rhino species - black, white, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan - to be threatened.

Some people believe rhino horns have medicinal properties, and that consuming them can cure fevers, headaches and vomiting. But even traditional medicine experts say this is an outdated notion.

Said Singapore Chinese Druggists Association secretary-general David Seow: "We do not encourage the use of rhino horns.

"There are many alternative medicinal materials and products that can replace rhino horns."

The Singapore Zoo has eight white rhinos. There are three greater one-horn rhinos - also known as Indian rhinos - at the Night Safari.

Further events planned for World Rhino Day at the zoo include a photo exhibition and public seminar.

lesterh@sph.com.sg