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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : January 2001 : Disappearing black rhinos to get bodyguards

Disappearing black rhinos to get bodyguards

By Andrew Morgan
The Sunday Telegraph (London)
January 7, 2001

AN ARMED guard is to be assigned around the clock to each one of the Western black rhinoceroses left in Cameroon, in west Africa, where the entire world population has fallen to less than 15 as a result of poaching.

The plan to give each rhino its own bodyguard was agreed at the latest meeting in Cameroon of a small group of the world's leading specialists on rhinoceros conservation, in order to save this most endangered of rhino subspecies from extinction.

The measures may come only just in time. Reports suggest that the estimated world population of 15 Western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) will have to be revised downwards to as few as 12; there are no Western black rhinos in captivity. An international task force will now send an expert into the field to track down all of Cameroon's remaining rhinos and to assign an individual guard to each one.

At the same time, biologists are to work with the Cameroon government to establish a rhinoceros sanctuary in prime habitat, where all the remaining Western black rhinos will be transported and heavily guarded.

The cost of building and maintaining the proposed 104sq-mile sanctuary will be about pounds 1 million over five years. The long-term goal is to produce and maintain a viable population of at least 50 Western black rhinos by 2050. In order to succeed, a secure population of at least five individual rhinos - three females and two males - needs to be established by 2002.

The black rhino's desperate plight is partly the result of a centuries-long demand in Yemen for rhino horn to be made into traditional handles for daggers. It is valued because it is said to improve with age. It can also take on a yellowish hue resembling the highly prized amber used in Yemeni jewellery.

Professionals in the field claim that half of the rhino horn on the market in the 1970s and 1980s went to Yemen for use in dagger handles. Most of the rest was sent to the Far East, where it is valued for medicinal purposes. All countries have banned the importation of rhino horn since 1985, but illegal traffic continues.

Experts attending the recent meeting included top-level officials from Cameroon's Ministry of Environment and Forests, the World Wide Fund for Nature, in addition to five leaders from the World Conservation Union, based in Switzerland, including Martin Brooks, the president of the African Rhinoceros Specialist Group.

Funds for the new armed guard operation and sanctuary will come in part from the World Wide Fund for Nature, in addition to the North Carolina Zoo, which has taken a leading role in saving the Western black rhino from extinction, and has pledged pounds 35,000 towards the first stage of recovery.

The funds will go towards providing anti-poaching equipment and staff, and towards veterinary services to ensure that the animals can be safely transported into the protection zone when it is established.

Mike Loomis, the zoo's chief veterinarian, will help with the translocation procedures. He says that cash raised will help to train and equip rangers to guard the last remaining rhinos and underwrite incentives to prompt local people to report poachers and provide rangers with the information needed to make arrests.

"Heavily guarded intensive protection zones will remain in operation until a permanent sanctuary can be built for these amazing prehistoric creatures," said Dr Loomis. "We simply cannot let them die out."



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