Ever wanted to own a pet rhino? Well, now you can … sort of. In an effort to raise awareness about the threats facing these iconic animals, developers of the popular online game RuneScape, along with animal charity United for Wildlife, have added virtual rhino sidekicks to their medieval playing field.

Over the next fortnight, registered RuneScape players (of which there are about 220 million worldwide) can unlock a medallion-wearing rhino to accompany them in the virtual game-space, provided they successfully answer a series of multiple-choice questions about rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Three correct answers gets you a white rhino, while the rarer black rhino requires ten. 

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Rhinos on RuneScape hope to spread an important conservation message to a younger audience. Image: RuneScape/United for Wildlife

The questions come from real-world conservationists Trang Nguyen and Mauricio Guerra, who have been programmed into the game world (real voices and all) as non-player characters to add a touch of authenticity to the initiative. You can find them hanging out in their virtual home of Burthorpe dishing out rhinos to those who can crack the questions. 

Behind the virtual rhinos is conservation conglomerate United for Wildlife, a collaboration between seven of the globe's most influential wildlife organisations led by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. 

"United for Wildlife is a fantastic initiative that aims to preserve some of the world's most endangered species in the wild. The RuneScape team is really proud to play our part in this important conservation project," Neil McClarty, brand director of RuneScape told Fauna and Flora International. "Our community has always shown amazing support for the many charity campaigns we've been involved with over the years, and we fully believe that they will continue this by throwing their support behind United for Wildlife's latest drive."

RuneScape is a free-to-play title that takes place in a fantasy world called Gielinor. The game features in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest free MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). If you're keen to join in on the fun (and hopefully learn a factoid or two about rhinos), register on RuneScape.

Story and images: RuneScape