Washington -- Africa's critically endangered black rhinoceros could be on its way to recovery if present trends continue, according to new estimates announced by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and World Wildlife Fund. Africa's white rhinoceros also appears stable at much higher numbers than the black rhino.
The black rhino (Diceros bicornis) 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. The white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) population, down to just 50 individuals a hundred years ago, now stands at 11, 000.
"Intensive field-protection efforts since the 1990's have paid off with dramatic results. With continued vigilance, Africa's black rhinos will survive into the future," said Tom Dillon, Director of Species Conservation for WWF US.
World Wildlife Fund provided funding for the African Rhino Specialist Group which yielded these new estimates. Monitoring of rhino populations is done by placing ID tags on the rhino in smaller population groups, and through aerial surveying of larger populations.
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. The northern white rhino has been reduced to a single, small population of just over 20 animals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is highly vulnerable because of the emergence of organized poaching. 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 AfRSG addressed security issues and poaching as well as improved biological management to enhance population growth rates. Although overall African rhino populations are recovering, there are also growing signs of increased poaching affecting particular populations in a number of countries.
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. 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 for traditional Chinese medicine; and in the Middle East it is carved and polished to make prestigious dagger handles.