African Rhino Numbers Increasing But No Room for Complacency

07 August 2000 | News story

Gland, Switzerland, (IUCN-WWF) 07.08.2000 - Numbers of the two species of African rhinoceros, the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) continue to increase in the wild according to new estimates announced today by IUCN - the World Conservation Union and WWF, the conservation organization.

The latest estimates, prepared by IUCN's African Rhino Specialist Group, show that there are now more rhino in Africa than at any time since the early to mid 1980s. In 1999, African rhino numbers in the wild reached just over 13,000, up from 8,300 in 1992. Most of this increase is due to the continued rapid growth in the number of southern white rhino. The balance between white and black rhino has shifted with 79% of African rhino in the wild in 1999 being white rhino, compared to only 30% in 1984.

"Even though overall numbers are positive, there is no room for complacency," said Dr Martin Brooks, Chairman of IUCN's African Rhino Specialist Group. "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."

The demand for rhino horn for traditional Chinese medicine (not as an aphrodisiac, as commonly believed) and for making decorative dagger handles in the Middle East has for decades fuelled an illegal international horn trade which has led to the poaching of thousands of rhinos. However, intensive conservation efforts in several African countries have helped black rhino numbers increase in the wild from a low of around 2,450 in 1992 to just over 2,700 by 1999, with a further 234 black rhino in captivity worldwide. While the continuing increase in continental black rhino numbers since 1995 is encouraging, the future of one of the four black rhino subspecies, the western black rhino, is bleak with only about 10 animals remaining scattered across northern Cameroon.

The southern white rhino, rescued from near extinction a century ago, stands as one of the world's greatest conservation success stories, up from approximately 20 in 1895 to just over 10,300 by 1999 (94% of which are in South Africa), with a further 721 in captivity worldwide. By contrast, the situation facing the other white rhino subspecies, the northern white rhino, is critical; and today only 24 to 31 exist in the wild in a single population in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following a recent birth there are now 10 northern white rhino in captivity.

In recent years, the implementation of effective conservation strategies involving government agencies, local communities, NGOs and private landowners in countries like South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Swaziland and Tanzania has played a major role in stabilising and gradually restoring rhino populations. Successful conservation of rhino habitat comes at a high price (as much as US$1,000/km2/year). The continuing declines in government funding for conservation across the African continent, and reduced staffing levels in some range States following structural adjustment programmes reduces the ability of State conservation agencies to undertake the necessary field conservation action. 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.

"One of the greatest challenges facing the future of rhinos in both Africa and Asia is maintaining sufficient conservation expenditure and field effort. " Dr Brooks added.

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For further information contact:

Dr Richard Emslie Scientific/Programme Officer IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group +27 33 8451472 or 33 3434065 email: remslie@kznncs.org.za
Dr Martin Brooks Chair IUCN Rhino Specialist Group +27 33 8451471 email: mbrooks@kznncs.org.za

IUCN - The World Conservation Union was created in 1948. It is the world's largest conservation-related organisation, bringing together 77 states, 104 government agencies, 720 NGOs, 35 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. For more than half a century IUCN has endeavoured to shape a just world that values and conserves nature. Its mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Within the framework of global conventions IUCN is promoting sustainability and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. IUCN has approximately 1000 staff, most of whom are located in its 42 regional and country offices while 100 work at its Headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

WWF: With its network of National organizations, Programme and Associate offices in more than 50 countries on five continents, WWF is one of the world's largest and most experienced independent conservation organization. It has 700 projects employing over 3,000 people in almost 100 countries.