Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rhino Conservation and the probable disappearance of one race

It looks as if the planet’s last four wild Northern White Rhinos, which lived in the Garamba National park in the DRC have gone. As reported by Reuters in an article of June 16th Martin Brooks, head of the African Rhino Specialist Group, has stated that recent fieldwork has failed to find the animals. A new, and intensive, survey is planned under the direction of the African Parks Foundation, but it would seem to me that they have little chance of finding anything.

Northern White Rhinos do not look any different than their cousins of the Southern race, and it is now these that have been translocated to Uganda, to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where I have taken students,and in 1966 were taken to Meru National Park, in Kenya, where I later had to do some medical interventions.

which I have documented in Wrestling With Rhinos and in The Trouble With Lions.

If the colours and picture quality of the animal with the big sore on its side look a bit dodgy, you may be interested to know that the photo comes from an old Super8 movie taken in the early 1970s. Super8 is incredibly small (8mm) and only technical wizardry has allowed us to use this picture.

As those who follow rhino issues closely know only too well, the pressure on them is unrelenting. If their horns are not being sold into Yemen to make dagger handles, they go to the Far East for use in traditional medicine.

It hardly matters who did the killing. In a country where war has been the norm for years and years it could be remnant armed militias like the ones who killed hundreds of hippo and have now started to take out elephants, (the war is supposed to be over) or even heavily-armed guerrillas from northern Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony , he of the bestial child abduction and slavery group who operate in the region. Either type of group would be hungry for the money that they could raise through the sales of rhino horn.

When I was in Kenya in 2006 there was a strong feeling that those four rhinos might find a home at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where they would have been relatively safe, as the place is heavily guarded. As there are no white rhino of the southern race inside the fence there would have been no risk of cross-breeding. The scheme seemed to be well ahead, and some of the logistics were being worked out. Then it all came to a halt. I am not sure why, but one reason given us was that locals in the DRC had objected. A sad end.

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