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 firstname.lastname@example.org.