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African Rhino Increasing in Numbers and Value

The foremost rhino experts report that the rhino population in Africa is the highest since the early 1980s, and that its live-sale price at auction has skyrocketed. The African Rhino Specialist Group (AFRSG) is a specialist group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission. Its mission is to promote the growth of viable populations of the various subspecies of African rhinos in the wild. Every second year it seeks to compile and synthesize information on the status (number and range) and conservation of African rhinos across their range. The group's most recent figures place the population of white rhino in the wild at 10,400 and the black rhino at 2,700. According to Martin Brooks, the chair-president of the AFRSG, this is "the first time since the mid 1980s that African rhino numbers have exceeded 13,000."

The southern white rhino numbers have continued to increase. They went from 6,784 in 1993; to 7,532 in 1996; to 8,441 in 1997; to 10,377 in 1999. All countries of the southern subspecies are increasing. Though 94 percent of southern white rhino are in the Republic of South Africa (9,754), Zimbabwe had 208, Kenya 164 and Namibia had 163. Twenty-two percent (2,319) are now privately owned.

The black rhino population is also creeping up. There were about 2,400 in 1992 and 1995, which increased to 2,600 in 1997 and to 2,700 in 1999. This distribution is 1,074 in South Africa, 695 in Namibia, 435 in Zimbabwe and 420 in Kenya. Some black rhino populations "have been performing sub-optimally and may be overstocked." These arguably may develop into hunting opportunities in time. According to the Scientific Officer in the group, Richard Emalie, only 2.81 percent of the black rhinos are privately owned, as compared to 22.29 percent of white rhinos. This comports with the policy statement that "if it pays, it stays." There are 251 different discrete white rhino populations in Africa and 178 (70.9 percent) of them are privately owned. Not so of the black rhino population, of which only nine are privately owned. One can only conclude that sustainable use has served the white rhino well and that the potential of use is now beginning to serve black rhinos too.

The only African rhino not stable or increasing in number and locations is the Western black rhino in Cameroon. "Time for its survival is running out," according to the AFRSG. "It is the most critically endangered of all African rhinos." Capture and captive breeding in a protected sanctuary is thought to be the only resort left for that subspecies.

The AFRSG also reports that live rhino sales values at the Hluhluwe 2000 game auctions in Kwa Zulu - Natal were at record levels. The prices ranged from $29,000(US) to $50,365 per rhino. The average was $29,200. The 1999 rhino prices have had a 4 1/2-fold increase since 1996 and were 70 percent more than 1998 prices. The prices of black rhino were also up. Six were sold at $54,750 each. The total sales were $1.23 million for 42 white rhino and $330,000 for six black rhino. Tourist hunting is accepted in this instance as having been a substantial force behind the conservation and continuing recovery of African rhino.

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