The West African black rhino subspecies has tentatively been declared as extinct by the IUCN’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG), and the northern white rhino appears to be following closely on its heels. Recent surveys failed to turn up any West African black rhinos in their last refuge in Cameroon, and only four northern white rhinos were found during surveys of the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
AfRSG chairman Dr Martin Brooks announced, “Efforts to locate further animals continue, but we must now face the possibility that the subspecies may not recover to a viable level.” The two rhino subspecies are the most threatened of the six existing African rhino subspecies.
At a recent meeting of the AfRSG in Swaziland, it was estimated that other rhino subspecies are faring better, and there are now believed to be 14,540 southern white rhino in Africa along with 3,725 southern black rhino. At one stage there were less than 50 southern white rhino left in the world, while black rhino numbers reached their lowest point of 2,410 animals in 1995.
As well as comparing notes on rhino numbers, the Swaziland meeting saw rhino conservationists swapping notes on rhino management and reintroduction techniques, and discussing enhanced collaboration in East Africa. The greatest threat to all species of rhino remains poaching for their horns, and the loss of the western black rhino and decline in the northern white rhino shows how rhino are vulnerable to lapses in security caused by political unrest.
With increased protection, numbers of northern white rhino in the Democratic Republic of Congo increased from 15 to 30 animals from 1984 to 1991, but since then civil wars in the DRC and neighbouring Sudan have since lowered the numbers to the current count of four animals.