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
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
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."