Each of Cameroons' Black Rhinos to Get Armed Guards

ASHEBORO, North Carolina, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - The Western black rhinoceros is under serious threat from poaching in Cameroon where the entire world population of less than 15 animals remains. Now conservationists plan to assign armed guards to each individual rhino around the clock to keep poachers at bay.

The plan arose from the November meeting of a small group of the world’s leading authorities on rhinoceros conservation in Cameroon, West Africa to save this most endangered rhino subspecies, the Western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes).


Black rhino (Photo courtesy WWF)
The North Carolina Zoo has taken a leadership role in saving the Western black rhino from extinction and pledged $50,000 toward the first stage of the recovery project. The World Wildlife Fund-International (WWF) also pledged to provide financial support to the program. Dr. Mike Loomis, the North Carolina Zoo’s chief veterinarian, was the only American invited to attend the rhinoceros conservation meeting, which was chaired by Denis Koulaga, Cameroons' director of wildlife and protected areas.

Also attending the meeting were three top level officials from Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment and Forests and five leaders from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), including Dr. Martin Brooks, the president of the African Rhinoceros Specialist Group and Dr. Sue Mainkea of IUCN-International. Three officials from the WWF also joined the group, including Dr. Holly Dublin from WWF-International.

Initial reports about the Western black rhino’s current status suggest that the estimated world population of 15 animals, all living in Cameroon, may have to be adjusted downward.

Symposium participants agreed that a minimum of two male and three female rhinos must be found and provided with protection if the rescue effort is to continue.

Stage one of the proposed project calls for sending a rhino expert into the field to track down all of Cameroon’s remaining rhinos. Once an animal is found, it will be assigned armed guards to provide it with protection 24 hours a day.


Dr. Mike Loomis, the North Carolina Zoo’s chief veterinarian (Photo courtesy North Carolina Zoo)
Meanwhile, biologists will work with the Cameroon government to establish a rhinoceros sanctuary in prime rhinoceros habitat. Once this site is selected and established, all remaining Western black rhinos will be transported to the new location, which will also be heavily guarded against poachers.

The cost for building and maintaining the proposed 270 square kilometer sanctuary for five years is estimated at $1.5 million.

The long term goal of the proposed conservation program is to produce and maintain a viable population of at least 50 Western black rhinos within the animal’s historic range by the year 2050.

In order to succeed by that date, a secure population of at least five individual rhinos needs to be established by 2002, and this group will need to be consolidated and expanding by the year 2006.


Critically endangered black rhino (Photo courtesy WWF)
The North Carolina Zoological Society has committed to raising at least $50,000 to provide anti-poaching equipment and personnel for the rhinos and to provide veterinary services to ensure that the animals can be safely transported into the protection zone when it is established. Dr. Loomis will assist with the translocation procedures.

Information on this program and the zoo’s corresponding program for Cameroon’s elephants is available on the Web at http://www.nczoo.com. The zoo is an agency of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

For over 1,000 years, rhino horn has been in demand in Yemen to make handles for traditionally worn daggers. It is valued because it is said to improve with age and handling. After a few decades a rhino horn hilt becomes translucent. It may also take on a yellowish hue resembling the highly prized amber used in Yemeni jewelry.

In the 1970s and 1980s, about half of the rhino horn on the market went to Yemen for dagger handles, experts say. The remainder went to East Asia, where it is valued for medicinal purposes, particularly as a fever reducing drug. Since 1985 all countries have banned the importation of rhino horn, but illegal imports continue.