A really sad milestone just happened today, so I felt like writing on it as well as describe the bleak future facing the world’s rhinos.
The Black Rhinoceros used to traditionally occur throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the tropical grasslands of Nigeria, to the deserts of Somalia, clear through the East African Rift Valley to South Africa, and then through the cape and to savannas of Angola. Several subspecies occur throughout this range. The subspecies recently declared extinct, the Western Black Rhinoceros, occurred from Benin to the Eastern Central African Republic. The Rhinos were common throughout this range, reaching maximum abundance in the tropical savannahs of Northern Cameroon, and Northeastern Central African Republic. In the early half of the 19th century, they were reported as being quite common throughout NE CAR and Cameroon, but in the latter half, things took a turn for the worst. Rhino populations crashed in this stronghold, with populations in national parks dwindling to only average abundance in the late 1970s. Soon after, Sudanese-caused poaching in the NE of the CAR during the 1980s caused rhinos to be nearly extinct (the same poaching which wiped out the CAR’s once famous elephant herds), with very few individuals surviving; animals were still clinging on in the north of Cameroon though. Unfortunately the poaching continued, unstoppable, and a comprehensive survey in 2006 failed to locate any sign of the Western Black Rhino in its Cameroon stronghold. Recent surveys suggest that they are extinct here, in their last stand. It’s so sad to think that it could have just taken one properly managed National Park in N Cameroon or NE CAR and the species could have been saved.
Sadly though, all of the world’s other rhinoceros species are in trouble. Few recognize the plight that plagues these animals; it’s not just pandas and tigers that are in trouble, rhinos and elephants need help too whether you wish to believe it or not… All rhino species are on the doorstep of extinction and elephants are not far behind. Just examine the facts – Indian and White Rhinos are Vulnerable, with Black, Javan, and Sumatran Rhinos Critically Endangered. The subspecies situation is even worse: several of the Black Rhino subspecies have already gone extinct. The SE Asian mainland subspecies of Sumatran Rhinoceros that used to occur in Thailand, Indochina, Burma, India, and China has also shared that fate, as well as the mainland subspecies of the Javan Rhinoceros. Even the comparatively less threatened Indian and White Rhinos are in trouble: The Indian Rhino’s range is restricted to a handful of tiny pockets in Nepal and India, while the White Rhino’s northern subspecies is almost extinct; a handful remain on one game ranch in Kenya, many interbred with the southern white rhino subspecies. A few may remain in the wild in their strongholds of the NE DRC and South Sudan.
The Black Rhino has only persisted, native in South Africa and Namibia, and even there, populations are threatened from poaching; these healthy, large populations are in trouble. Most rhinos in East Africa, such as the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Laikipia are reintroduced; “original” animals are thought to only still occur in Tanzania’s remote, huge, untouched Selous Game Reserve. The chobiensis subspecies of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia is extinct.
The Javan Rhinoceros, which once ranged all over mainland SE Asia as well as Java, only clings on as around 40 animals in the remote Ujung Kulon NP. Incredibly elusive, these animals lead out a solitary existence among the mangroves, canals, and forests of the remote western part of the island. The mainland subspecies, who last haunt was Cat Tien NP in Vietnam, went extinct in 2010 following the last individual’s death at the hands of poachers. Vietnam and China area the worst countries in the world in terms of illicit Rhinoceros trade, so it is almost ironic that the last animal had to survive here…
The Sumatran Rhinoceros shares a similar fate, with only less than 200 animals surviving in a handful of remote national parks in Sumatra and Borneo. It too once used to range throughout mainland Asia, being quite common in the rain forests of North Burma and NE India.
With such iconic creatures in peril, most who have just found out about our rhinos’ predicament ask the question: what can we do to save them. The most important answer is STOP THE ILLEGAL TRADE OF RHINO HORNS. Once this is accomplished, poachers will no longer have motivation to risk their lives, and endanger the lives of others to kill these innocent animals. The most effective conservation method is to both better protect rhinos in crucial range states such as Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Malaysia as well as stem the international underground trade of rhino horn. If demand in illegal trade centers such as China and Vietnam can be stopped, poaching will end in the simple supply-and-demand cycle. CITES, IUCN, WWF, and many more organizations are attempting this right now, and while we cannot see much in the way of positive changes – rhino poaching is actually on the rise – we can only hope for the better.