Introducing the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS)

Posted September 21, 2021 by Jessye Wojtusik

Despite global efforts to conserve rhinos, many populations face severe threats to their survival. Rhinos in zoos can act as insurance against extinction but maintaining sustainable and healthy zoo populations can be difficult. Rhinos can face a number of physiological challenges including those related to fertility and breeding, physical and behavioral wellness, and unique diseases/disorders. It is important to ensure care staff has access to the knowledge and tools needed to mitigate the issues that arise, so they can provide their rhinos with the best possible care.

With support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Grant #MG-249011-OMS-21), scientists from The Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), The Wilds, Disney’s Animals, Science and the Environment, George Mason University, the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction & Conservation, and Stellenbosch University, South Africa are joining together in a collaborative effort to further our understanding of rhino biology and develop ways to support species survival.

The American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS) is a coalition of expert rhino scientists that will investigate avenues for optimizing the health and well-being of rhinos in human care. Studies will focus on four main research priorities which include physical fitness, reproduction, well-being, and iron storage and scientists will work with both national and international partnering institutions. This initiative will provide training opportunities for multiple scientists at various stages in their career. It will also generate affordable and feasible management recommendations to veterinarians and animal care staff for monitoring and controlling  physical condition, iron overload, and reproduction, while ensuring optimal rhino well-being at the 74 AZA facilities caring for rhinos.

This unique collaborative effort will have a synergistic effect, allowing the partners to make greater progress on research projects and further enhance their understanding of rhino biology, more so than could be achieved alone. The AIRS team is excited to begin their journey in support of saving rhinos with science and looks forward to sharing the highlights and challenges as they arise.