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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
African rhino numbers rise
Rhino BBC
Black rhino: Modest increases in seven years
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

African rhinos, some of the world's most charismatic and endangered animals, are continuing to claw their way back from the brink.


Numbers of two of the six African rhino subspecies remain very low

Dr Martin Brooks
New estimates say the number of rhinos in the wild in Africa is now higher than at any time since the early to mid-1980s.

But several subspecies are in dire straits, struggling to survive with as few as ten animals still at large.

And conservationists say the threats to Africa's rhinos remain as potent as ever.

Warning

The new estimates were prepared by the African rhino specialist group of the World Conservation Union, IUCN, working with the global conservation body WWF.

The rhino group's chairman, Dr Martin Brooks, said: "Even though overall numbers are positive, there is no room for complacency.

"Numbers of two of the six African rhino subspecies remain very low, and invasions of private land in Zimbabwe by war veterans and squatters currently pose a threat to several significant populations."

White
White rhino are "a success story"
In 1992, there were thought to be as few as 8,300 wild rhino in Africa. Today, the group says, there are just over 13,000.

Most of the increase is the consequence of the continued rapid growth in the number of southern white rhino, 94% of which are in South Africa.

WWF describes the animal's recovery as "one of the world's greatest conservation success stories". From a remnant of about 20 southern whites in 1895, by 1999 there were just over 10,300. A further 721 rhino are in captivity around the world.

Black rhino have increased much more modestly, from a low of about 2,450 in 1992 to just over 2,700 by last year. Another 234 animals are in captivity.

But these increases mask the predicament of several subspecies. The western black rhino, one of four distinct black varieties, has been reduced to about 10 animals which are scattered across northern Cameroon.

And the northern white rhino now numbers between 24 and 31 animals, all of them in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A further 10 northern whites are in captivity.

Rhinos have suffered heavily from poaching for decades, because their horns have been sought for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for making decorative dagger handles in parts of the Middle East.

Expensive

War, instability and poverty add to the pressures on these and other commercially valuable species.

South Africa alone conserves 83% of all the continent's rhinos. But the work does not come cheap.

The IUCN/WWF team estimates the annual cost of conserving rhino habitat at up to US $1,000 per square kilometre.

Rhino PA
There are almost a thousand captive rhino
It says: "The continuing declines in government funding for conservation across the African continent, and reduced staffing levels in some states following structural adjustment programmes, reduce the ability of state conservation agencies to undertake the necessary field conservation action."

Dr Brooks told BBC News Online: "At least in southern Africa, nature conservation and eco-tourism are very important - and that includes protecting the rhinos.

Lifeline

"In countries with a reasonable infrastructure, it's short-sighted of governments not to invest in conservation.

"We're not saying they shouldn't invest in welfare, health, education and other urgent human demands.

"But countries can earn from eco-tourism. It shouldn't be in competition with what people need. It should be a catalyst.

"Conservation is not a poor relation. It's the lifeline of development."

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See also:

14 Feb 00 | Africa
Elephants kill endangered rhino
17 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Rhinos caught in crossfire
10 May 98 | Africa
Rhinos on the rise
12 Mar 98 | UK
Rhino horn traders jailed
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