Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu
On November 10, 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western Black Rhinoceros to be officially extinct. In 2000, an estimated ten Western Black Rhinos were in existence in Cameroon. In 2006, none were to be found and a search continued through November 2011 when the rhino was officially declared extinct. The loss of the Western Black Rhino is significant since this rhino was genetically different than the other three black rhino sub-species (East African Black Rhino, South-western Black Rhino, South-central Black Rhino).
Historically, the Western Black Rhino was wide spread across the savanna of central west Africa. They were heavily hunted in the early twentieth century, but by the 1930s the population began to rise as anti-hunting and anti-poaching laws went into effect. As the century continued on, the conservation efforts were relaxed and poachers were not held accountable for killing the Western Black Rhino.
Rhino horns are prized in Chinese herbal medicine to treat comas, cure fevers, and aid male sexual stamina. In the Middle East, rhino horns are used to carve ornate handles for ceremonial daggers called "jambiyas". In the 1970s, demand for rhino horns exploded and the rhino population declined to critically endangered levels.
Efforts to save the remaining three sub-species of black rhino have been more successful. The Eastern Black Rhino once numbered around 100,000 in 1900, dropped to a population of 1,500 rhinos in the 1960s. Intensive breeding and conservation efforts have raised those number to 4,500 rhinos. However, poaching of the Eastern Black Rhino is still a huge problem. Even with these efforts, the Eastern Black Rhino is considered critically endangered by the IUCN.
The current population of the South-central Black Rhino hovers around 1,500 animals. This rhino sub-species is also considered critically endangered by the IUCN.
The South-western Black Rhino has a historic range in Botswana, South Africa, Angola, and Namibia but is now currently only in Namibia with just under 1,000 rhino in existence. Even this low number the IUCN considers this rhino sub-species vulnerable to extinction instead of critically endangered.
The biggest threat to all rhino populations is illegal poaching.