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