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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : December 2000 : N.C. Zoo helps in rhino rescue

N.C. Zoo helps in rhino rescue

By Annette Barr
News & Record
December 24, 2000

ASHEBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - The black rhinoceros population has been dwindling for years and may be down to just a handful in Cameroon, the West African country where the black rhinos live.

That's where North Carolina Zoo Chief Veterinarian Mike Loomis comes in. Loomis traveled to Cameroon last month to aid in a rescue effort to safe the species.

''This basically is the last ditch effort. This is the most endangered subspecies in the world,'' Loomis said.

There were 16 people invited to the three-day conference in Cameroon. Loomis, who has worked with elephant conservation in Cameroon, was the only person invited from the United States.

''I really felt honored that I was asked to take part in this whole thing,'' he said.

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Cameroon and the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources convened the meeting.

The black rhinos have been in danger for at least 20 years. In 1980, the estimated population was 3,000. By 1993, that had dropped to about 35.

''They've been poached primarily for their horn,'' Loomis said. ''This is a species that would not be at peril if it weren't for humans. If humans weren't around, the rhinos would be doing fine.''

The horns are used for two things. In Yemen, the horn is used as a dagger handle, a sign of status among men. In India, China and the Far East, the horn is used in folk medicine as a cure for headaches, fever and as an aphrodisiac. Loomis said scientific studies have shown that the horn's healing power is a myth.

It is important to save the Western black rhinoceros, Loomis said, because its continued existence will help preserve genetic diversity.

''The Western black rhinoceros is a key component of Cameroon's ecosystem,'' he said. ''So its survival is important to that country. But, in addition, all of the Western black rhinos remaining on earth live in Cameroon, so saving them has global implications too. With only 12 to 15 animals remaining, we must act now if we are going to save them.''

Attendees at the conference decided to find someone to track and identify the age and sex of the animals.

''The hope is that it will take six months to find them and protect them,'' Loomis said.

The protection would come in a large fenced-in preserve, most likely in one of the country's parks. To build a preserve and staff it for five years, Loomis said it will cost about $1.5 million. He said the World Wide Fund and the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources will look into raising funds throughout the world for the project.

The North Carolina Zoological Society will contribute funds to the rhino rescue effort.

''One of the biggest benefits of the zoo is to take a real-life conservation issue and bring it back to the zoo,'' Loomis said.

Anyone interested in supporting the program or wanting more information about rhino conservation can contact the Society at 336-879-7250. Contact Annette Barr at 625-8452, Ext. 228, or



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