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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Brutal poachers threaten to wipe out rare rhino
 

Brutal poachers threaten to wipe out rare rhino

  By David Harrison, Environment Correspondent
(Filed: 17/11/2002)

The Sumatran rhinoceros, one of the world's most endangered animals, is on the brink of extinction after a resurgence of poaching. ›

Rhino horn seized from poachers. It is used in Asian Medicine
Hunters use barbaric methods, including electrocution, to kill the rhinos and have halved the population over the past eight years to about 300, according to a new report drawn up by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Conservationists say that, without urgent action, the species will be wiped out in less than a decade. The Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) lives only in Indonesia and Malaysia.

An average of 37 are killed each year for their horns, which fetch about £3,000 per kilo and are sold for use in traditional Asian medicines. Kerotin, a substance found in the horns, is said to help to fight fever and strokes.


Apart from medicines the horn is used to make ceremonial dishes and cups, sword handles, belt buckles and buttons.

Poachers cut overhead power cables and drape them over hundreds of yards of forest so that the live wires electrocute the animals. The hunters also dig traps and shoot the creatures before gouging out their horns.

Stuart Chapman, the head of the WWF's species programme, said: "We thought this kind of poaching had been consigned to history in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's back with a vengeance and the poachers are more ruthless than ever.

"The rapid disappearance of the Sumatran rhino is deeply worrying. The anti-poaching patrols are struggling to stave off its extinction.

"We need more patrols and we must also reduce the demand for horn in traditional medicines or we will lose the Sumatran for ever."

He added that "the absurd thing" was that kerotin "is far from unique to rhino horn", but was also found in buffalo horn, horses hooves and many other sources.

In its report, Wanted Alive: Asian Rhinos in the Wild, the WWF says the Sumatran variety is now the most endangered rhino in the world.

Another regional subspecies - the Javan rhino - numbers only 60 in Indonesia and Vietnam, but its population is rising thanks to improved conservation measures in recent years.

While there are only eight Javan rhinos remaining in Vietnam, the 52 in Java are concentrated in one well-protected area and their numbers are growing steadily.

Sumatran rhinos, however, are scattered over nine areas, making them more difficult to protect from poachers. Mr Chapman said: "The Sumatran rhino is in precipitous decline. Its trend is much more alarming."

The Sumatran rhino's chances of survival are not helped by its low reproduction rate. Females generally produce only one offspring every three years. Loss of habitat to farming, forestry and housing adds to the pressure.

Christy Williams, the WWF's co-ordinator for Asian rhinos and elephants, said: "Unless more money and effort go into anti-poaching and curbing land conversion we risk losing these animals for ever."

Mr Chapman referred to a common misconception that African rhinos were more endangered than Asian. "The opposite is the case," he said. The African rhinos have recovered remarkably.

The white rhino was almost extinct at the end of the 19th century, but there are now more than 10,000. The black rhino population fell disastrously from 65,000 in 1970 to 2,500 in 1993, but has since grown to 2,700.

The total Asian population - including the one-horned rhinos of India and Nepal - is fewer than 3,000. One-horned rhinos are under threat from the mimosa weed that is choking the grassland habitat in India's Kaziranga national park where most live.

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