More of Africa urged to boost rhino numbers

Friday, March 21, 2008

After bringing Africa’s black rhinos spectacularly back from the brink of extinction one of the world’s most successful conservation programmes is to celebrate its first decade by seeking to extend its operations to more of Africa.

Representatives of the governments of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia are expected to join in WWF’s African Rhino Programme (ARP) 10th anniversary celebration in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, today. They will join government and wildlife representatives, community representatives and eco-tourism operators from the current ARP participating States of in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

“What we have shown is that in partnership with governments and communities and business it is possible to stave off extinction for the rhino in some of its former range,” said WWF International’s Species Programme Director Dr Susan Lieberman. “The task now is to secure a future for the rhino in the rest of its range, where threats from poaching and development urgently need to be addressed.”

Africa’s savannas once teemed with more than a million white and black rhinos. However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline. The southern white rhino was close to extinction by the late 19th century but concerted conservation efforts by KwaZulu Natal and others has led to a significantly larger population.

Added to hunting and habitat loss, trade in rhino horn peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, when huge quantities were shipped to the lucrative markets of the Middle East and Asia.

Responding to the crisis, both species of African rhino were listed in 1977 in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibited all international trade of rhino parts and products. Despite this international legal protection, the black rhino population at its lowest point dipped to 2,400 in 1995.

In 1997, there were 8,466 white rhinos and 2,599 black rhinos remaining in the wild. Today, there are 14,500 white rhinos and nearly 4,000 of the more endangered black rhinos.

Today, most of Africa’s black rhinos are found in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe, where the species’ decline has been stopped through effective security monitoring, better biological management, wildlife-based tourism and extensive assistance to enable communities to benefit from rather than be in conflict with wildlife.

According to the African Rhino Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, Africa’s white and black rhino numbers have shown annual growth rates of 6.8 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively, since 1995.

“What we know from looking back at the last ten years is that sustained conservation can and does work,” says George Kampamba, WWF International’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator.

Although WWF has worked on Rhino conservation throughout its 45-year history, the ARP was notable for its overall approach. Working through field projects, it combined action at every level from local communities to global policy.

One striking, if unanticipated, indicator of the success of the programme is that land prices immediately increase in areas where rhinos are re-introduced through a range expansion program. The ARP, which has had experience reintroducing rhinos to national parks, also passed a milestone last year when a KwaZulu Natal community received black rhinos for community-owned land dedicated to wildlife and ecotourism uses.

“Rhino conservation in Africa is going from strength to strength,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme. “But poaching, illegal trade, and unplanned development remain significant problems across the rhinos’ range and there is no room for complacency.”

In celebration of a decade of rhino conservation, WWF honoured six leaders as “rhino champions” today at Pongola Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. "These rhino champions have made extraordinary contributions to rhino conservation," Dr Lieberman said.
The champions are:.

Emmanuel-Cebo Gumbi (known as “Nathi Gumbi”) director Somkhanda Game Reserve and member of the Gumbi royal family

Kevin John Pretorius, regional director for Phinda Game Reserve

Clive Vivier, owner Leopold Mountain Game Reserve

Manfred Kohrs, former chairman Pongola Game Reserve Association

Dr Jacques Flammand, project leader WWF/Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.

Taye Teferi, conservation director of WWF’s East Africa Regional Program
Jackson Kamwi, Senior Rhino Monitor at the Lowveld Conservancy Project, Zimbabwe

Source: WWF