afrol News, 25 June - Africa's critically endangered black rhinoceros could be on its way to recovery if present trends continue, environmentalist groups report. Following immense conservation efforts, the black rhino may be on track to follow the sensational success story of the white rhino, that has increased its population from 50 individuals a hundred years ago to a present population of 11, 000.
The African Rhino Specialist Group yesterday announced new population estimates of the black rhino population, indicating that a turning point has been reached. The specialist group, appointed by the environmentalist groups IUCN and WWF, concludes that the black rhino now could be on its way to recovery.
The black rhino suffered a drastic decline from about 65,000 in the 1970s to only 2,400 in the mid 1990s. The latest findings show black rhino numbers have increased to just over 3,600, a rise of 500 over the last two years.
Africa's white rhinoceros also appears stable at much higher numbers than the black rhino. The white rhino population, down to just 50 individuals a hundred years ago, now stands at 11, 000. The rescue of the white rhino stands out as one of the world's greatest conservation success stories.
- While the continuing increase in continental black rhino numbers since the 1990s is encouraging, two African rhino sub-species still face a high risk of extinction, WWF however warns.
The northern sub-species of the white rhino has been reduced to a single, small population of just over 20 animals in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), according to the specialist group. "It is highly vulnerable because of the emergence of organised poaching," WWF says. In Cameroon, the western black rhino is in an even worse state with only a few animals scattered widely.
- One of the greatest challenges facing the future of rhinos in Africa is maintaining sufficient conservation expenditure and field effort, says Taye Teferi, WWF's African Rhino Coordinator. "Illegal demand for horn, high unemployment, poverty, demand for land, wars, the ready availability of arms and internal instability also pose a threat to rhino populations."
At its recent meeting at Tsavo West National Park, Kenya, the African Rhino Specialist Group addressed security issues and poaching as well as improved biological management to enhance population growth rates. Although overall African rhino populations are recovering, there were also "growing signs of increased poaching affecting particular populations in a number of countries," WWF says.
- The single most important cause for the catastrophic decline of rhinos in the last quarter of the 20th century has been the demand for their horn in the Middle Eastern and Eastern Asian markets, according to the environmentalist group.
In medieval Europe it was fashioned into chalices believed to have the power of detecting poisons, in the Far East, and in the many East Asian communities elsewhere, the horn is used as a fever-reducing ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine; and in the Middle East it is carved and polished to make prestigious dagger handles.
In certain parts of Africa, especially the northern countries, rhinos have probably been in decline for hundreds of years. It was not, however, until the advent of the gun and the push by European settlers into Africa's interior, late in the 19th century that the precipitous decline of black and white rhino populations in east and southern Africa began.
The Kenya meeting, co-sponsored by WWF and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Regional Programme for Rhino Conservation, concluded with an appeal to the international conservation community to increase funding support to African rhino management authorities.
- Despite concerns that conservation funding is also declining at the very time when it is needed the most, the increasing spirit of cooperation among all those involved in rhino conservation is good, said Martin Brooks, Chairman of the African Rhino Specialist Group. "It has resulted in improved management of our populations and in the restoration of rhinos in countries where they had been lost," he added.
Nevertheless, the experts hold that the situation facing African rhinoceroses "is still critical". The international horn trade ban and the domestic bans imposed in most traditional user states had only driven the trade further underground, "in some cases inflating prices and making illegal dealing even more lucrative."
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