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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : January 2001 : Race on to save West Africa's last few black rhinos

Race on to save West Africa's last few black rhinos

Agence France Presse
January 7, 2001

PARIS - An international rescue operation is afoot in Cameroon to save fewer than ten black rhinos, the last survivors from herds of thousands wiped out by poachers across West Africa over the past two decades.

"It is necessary, in fact, to act immediately, because this rhinoceros could disappear very soon," said Alain Zecchini, a rhinoceros expert who helps run France's National Society for the Protection of Nature (SNPN).

Zecchini said the rescue operation -- a joint effort by Cameroon authorities, the international nature conservation union UICN and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) -- was set to begin soon.

The rhino specialist spoke out against a widespread notion about why the horn of the beast is prized in Asia and sought by poachers, who also sell it to some Arab peoples, particularly Yemeni tribesmen who use it for the hilts of their daggers.

"Contrary to what people believe in the west, Asian people do not attribute aphrodisiac virtues to the rhinoceros horn. They use it for different illnesses and consider it good, for example, in bringing down a fever," Zecchini said.

"They still believe this firmly, even if no experiment has conclusively proved that rhinoceros horn -- made of keratine, like toenails -- has pharmaceutical qualities."

The plan will consist in identifying the remaining rhinos and herding them to a safe sanctuary where they will be able to reproduce in peace, possibly bringing their numbers back to around 50 by the middle of this century.

In the early 1980s there were roughly 3,000 of the regional sub-species known as the black rhino in West Africa. Now there are less than ten.

Seven species of rhinoceros used to exist across Africa, but three are already extinct.



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