Mixed fortunes for Africa’s rhinos

07 July 2006 | News story

New surveys depict extremely grim future for two of Africa's six rhino sub-species: the West African black and the northern white, while overall continental black rhino and southern white rhino are recovering..

While most subspecies of Africa’s two rhinos, the black and white rhino, continue on the road to recovery, this is not true for two of Africa’s most threatened rhino subspecies: the West African black (Diceros bicornis longipes) and the Northern white (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). The West African black rhino is now feared extinct and numbers of the northern white rhino have reached an all time low in the wild. In both cases, poaching for rhino horn is the main cause of their demise.

This is according to new estimates announced by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. A recent survey of the West African black rhino by a French-based survey group has failed to locate any sign of their continued presence, despite an intensive survey earlier this year throughout its last refuges in northern Cameroon.

“As a result this subspecies has been tentatively declared as extinctm,” says Dr Martin Brooks, AfRSG chairman. “Also the northern white rhino is on the very brink of being lost. Restricted in the wild to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recent ground and aerial surveys conducted under the direction of African Parks Foundation and the AfRSG have only found four animals. Efforts to locate further animals continue, but we must now face the possibility that the subspecies may not recover to a viable level,” he continued

On a more positive note, continental black rhino numbers of the remaining three subspecies have increased to 3,725 as a whole, a rise of 3.2% over the last two years: this from an all time low of 2,410 in 1995. The ultimate conservation success story continues for the other white rhino subspecies, the southern white. Down to less than 50 animals a hundred or so years ago, numbers have increased to 14,540.

At its recent meeting in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland, opened by King Mswati III, Ngwenyama of Swaziland, and sponsored by UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the AfRSG shared experiences in rhino management and reintroduction techniques, and discussed a wide variety of topics. Good progress was made towards the creation of a rhino management group to enhance collaboration between East African countries, holistic guidelines for guiding rhino reintroductions were drafted, and African range states supplied much of the data to enable the AfRSG to report on rhino status and illegal trade to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Poaching for rhino horn remains the primary threat to rhinos. It has been responsible for the dramatic decline of northern white rhinos since 2003. It is a truism that rhinos, like elephants, are amongst the first species to suffer once security declines, and they are particularly vulnerable to economic and political instability.

“In a climate of declining conservation budgets,” Dr Martin Brooks added, “it is good to note that two public private partnerships are bringing generous funding and institutional support for the creation of new large and genetically viable black rhino populations in North Luangwa, Zambia, and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. However, such interventions are not always possible; African Range States need to strive for self-sufficiency and the integration of these flagship species and areas into their regional economies if the distribution and numbers are not to decline in future.”

For further information contact:

Dr Martin Brooks, Chair, IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, Tel: +27 (0)33 3471100, email: rhinopmb(at)telkomsa.net

Dr Richard Emslie, Scientific Officer, IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, Tel: +27 (0)33 3434065, email: emslieafrsg(at)telkomsa.net

Carolin Wahnbaeck, Global Media Relations Officer, The World Conservation Union (IUCN), Tel: +41 22 999 0127, e-mail: carolin.wahnbaeck(at)iucn.org, Web: www.iucn.org

IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group // AfRSG contact information