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SOS Rhino : In the News : Africa's black rhino seen on road to recovery

Africa's black rhino seen on road to recovery

  Thursday, June 24, 2004
By Ed Stoddard, Reuters
Envronmental News Network

JOHANNESBURG „ Africa's black rhino has been snatched from the brink of extinction and its numbers are on the rebound, but the lumbering beast still faces many threats, conservationists said on Thursday.

"Africa's critically endangered black rhinoceros could be on its way to recovery if present trends continue," the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and WWF International said as they unveiled new estimates from the African Rhino Specialist Group.

Demand for rhino horn in East Asia, where it is valued for medical purposes, and in the Middle East, where it is used in dagger handles, left a bloody trail of dead rhinos in its wake.

Rampant poaching drove black rhino numbers down to around 2,400 in the mid-1990s from an estimated 65,000 just two decades before. Poachers typically hack off the horns and leave the hulking carcasses to rot under the African sun.

"The latest findings show black rhino numbers have increased to just over 3,600, a rise of 500 over the last two years," Swiss-based IUCN and WWF said.

Better law enforcement and an increase in the amount of protected habitat, notably in South Africa where landowners are converting farms into private nature reserves, are reasons that have been given for the rise in numbers.

"The ability to engage the private sector has been very helpful.... In South Africa, private land owners are buying black rhinos as an asset," said Dr. Sue Mainka, the head of IUCN's species program.

The conservation bodies made no mention of black rhino numbers in Zimbabwe, where environmentalists have sounded the alarm about an upsurge of poaching amid lawlessness and a crumbling economy.

The black rhino is following a comeback path blazed by its bigger cousin the white rhino, which is the world's second largest land mammal. The southern white rhino population, down to just 50 individuals a century ago, now stands at 11,000.

Both animals are in fact gray in colour.

The outlook for two other African sub-species of rhino is far more bleak, the IUCN and WWF said.

The northern white rhino has been reduced to a single, small population of just over 20 animals in the anarchic Democratic Republic of Congo and could soon be wiped out altogether by Sudanese poachers. In Cameroon, the western black rhino may be in an even worse state with only a few animals scattered widely.

"Illegal demand for horn, high unemployment, poverty, demand for land, wars, the ready availability of arms and internal instability ... pose a threat to rhino populations," said Taye Teferi, WWF's African Rhino Coordinator. Source: Reuters

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