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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Black rhinos 'on recovery path'
Black rhinoceros, WWF-Canon / Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser
Numbers of the animals had been falling since the 1970s (Image: WWF-Canon / Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser)
Numbers of African black rhinos are rising in the wild, conservationists say, suggesting the endangered animals could be on the road to recovery.

New figures put the current number of black rhinoceroses at 3,600, a rise of 500 animals over the last two years.

The black rhino had been on the decline since the 1970s due to hunting, war and increasing demand for land.

The estimates come from IUCN - the World Conservation Union - and the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF).

The black rhino suffered a near-catastrophic decline from about 65,000 animals in the 1970s to only 2,400 in the mid-1990s.

But the continuing rise in black rhinos since the mid-1990s is encouraging, say the conservation groups behind the new estimates.

"One of the greatest challenges facing the future of rhinos in Africa is maintaining sufficient conservation expenditure and field effort," said Taye Teferi, WWF's African rhino co-ordinator.

Traditional trade

"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."

Rhino horn is highly sought after by practitioners of traditional medicine in the Far East. In the Middle East it has traditionally been carved and polished to make dagger handles.

The number of white rhinos, which had fallen to just 50 individuals one hundred years ago, now stand at 11,000 and appear stable.

But two 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 and continues to be vulnerable due to organised poaching.

And in Cameroon, only a few scattered western black rhinos are thought to remain.

"Despite threats like poaching and habitat destruction rhino numbers are moving away from the brink of extinction," said Callum Rankine, WWF's international species officer for the UK.

But he pointed out that there are around 90% fewer black rhinos now than there were 30 years ago.

The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of IUCN's Species Survival Commission recently held a meeting in Kenya to discuss biological management and security for the animals.

It concluded that, although numbers of the animals are on the rise in general, specific populations continue to be threatened by increased poaching.

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