June 12, 2002
NewScientist.com news service
Populations of endangered black and white rhinoceroses are on the
increase in Africa, according to a new report from the World Conservation
Union (IUCN). But the situation in some countries is still dire,
and conservationists are warning against complacency.
In 2001, black and white rhinos numbered nearly 15,000 - about
1500 more than in 1999. "The overall picture is of a slow and
steady increase," says Rob Brett, co-ordinator of the Southern
African Development Community Rhino Conservation Programme.
In 1960, there were about 100,000 black rhinos alone in Africa,
but widespread poaching sent that number plummeting to just 2,400
"It's generally encouraging now - but there is a very mixed
picture across the continent," Brett adds.
The biggest increases are in Namibia and South Africa, where effective
law enforcement has kept poachers at bay, says Tony Conway, conservation
manager at St Lucia Wetland Park in South Africa.
Some conservationists had feared that economic instability in Zimbabwe
- with the third largest rhino population in Africa - would threaten
the animals. But "I was pleasantly surprised there wasn't any
large scale poaching," Conway says.
Lull in demand
Demand for rhino horn has also fallen. Conservationists have persuaded
many people to accept water buffalo horn as a substitute for carved
dagger handles in Yemen, for example.
The Far East is traditionally another major market for rhino horn,
which is used in local medicine. "There does appear to be a
lull in demand," says Brett. But he is concerned this might
be because dealers are releasing stock-piled horns onto the market.
Some rhino sub-species are still critically endangered, however.
In Cameroon, the Western Black Rhino is down to just five animals,
and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), the Northern
White Rhino numbers fewer than 30.
The situation in Cameroon is dire. "Getting agreement from
the government to do anything has been impossible. The place is
being pretty much cleaned out for bush meat," says Brett.
Conservation efforts in DR Congo have been hampered by the vicious
civil war, which has waged since 1998.