Sad news today: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) of Africa extinct. Even worse, two other subspecies of rhinos are also close to becoming extinct. The Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) of central Africa has been declared “possibly extinct” in the wild and the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is now “probably extinct” in Vietnam.
In 2010, poachers killed the last Javan Rhino outside of Java. The animal was found dead in April 2010 with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed in Vietnam in Cat Tien National Park; an analysis of 22 dung samples affirmed the sad truth, that it was the last of its kind in Vietnam. The Indonesian island of Java still has a small but declining population.
Rhinos have been targeted by poachers for their horns which are believed to have medicinal and other properties, such as curing cancer, in traditional Eastern medicine. Says Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission:
“They had the misfortune of occurring in places where we simply weren’t able to get the necessary security in place.
“You’ve got to imagine an animal walking around with a gold horn; that’s what you’re looking at, that’s the value and that’s why you need incredibly high security.”
The IUCN blamed a number of factors for the Western Black Rhino’s becoming extinct, while noting that, had conservation efforts been implemented, this could have been avoided. But a “lack of political support for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats,” as well as international organized crime groups that have targeted the rhino, commercial poaching and an increase in demand around the world for rhino horns have all contributed to the species’ decline.
Just as worrisome, the IUCN says that a quarter of all mammals are now at risk of extinction, according to its updated Red List of endangered species which includes more than 61,900 animal and plant species. Included on the list are Tarzan’s chameleon (Calumma tarzan), the limbless skink (Paracontias fasika) and the Chinese water fir, once found throughout China and Vietnam.
On a far more positive note that highlights the value of conservation programs, the Southern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus) have been brought back successfully from extinction. At the end of the 19th century, fewer than 100 Southern White Rhinos were believed to be alive, but now their numbers are thought to be over 20,000. Przewalski’s Horse was last found in the wild in 1996. Thanks to a captive breeding program, its numbers are now over 300.
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