July 7, 2006

Survey Suggests Black Rhinos of West Africa Extinct

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - West Africa's version of the black rhino appears to be extinct, the World Conservation Union said on Friday.

It said an intensive survey has failed to find any sign of the west African black rhino in its final refuge in northern Cameroon.

On a more positive note, it said rhino numbers are on the rise elsewhere on the world's poorest continent after decades of rampant poaching and habitat loss.

"As a result (of this survey) this subspecies has been tentatively declared as extinct," Dr Martin Brooks, chairman of the World Conservation Union's African Rhino Specialist Group, said in a statement after a meeting in Swaziland.

There are two species of the horned titans in Africa, the more aggressive black rhino and the larger white version. Scientists further recognize two sub-species of white rhino and four sub-species of the black. All are in fact grey in color.

The northern white rhino is also on the verge of oblivion.

"Restricted in the wild to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recent ground and aerial surveys ... have only found four animals," Brooks said.

Elsewhere rhino numbers are on the rise, partly because of better enforcement against poachers.

They are targeted for their horns which fetch high prices in Yemen, where they are used as ceremonial dagger handles, and in the Far East for traditional medicines. Poachers typically hack off the horns, leaving the hulking carcass to rot in the sun.

"Continental black rhino numbers have increased to 3,725 as a whole, a rise of 3.2 percent over the last two years: this from an all time low of 2,410 in 1995," the World Conservation Union said.

"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," it said.

Also known as the IUCN, the Swiss-based World Conservation Union's estimates of wild animal populations are considered to be highly authoritative as they are determined by some of the best scientists in the field.