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Endangered white rhino survives Congo civil war

Rhino
Two dozen white rhinos are known to have survived Congo's civil war  
May 14, 1998
Web posted at: 7:51 p.m. EDT (2351 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- The northern white rhino, the world's most threatened sub-species of rhinoceros, has conquered the odds and survived last year's civil war in Congo, WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature said Wednesday.

WWF believes there is still hope the world will be able to save the critically endangered species.

A survey of the status of the rhino population and its habitat, now being carried out by WWF in Garamba National Park in the northeast part of the country formerly known as Zaire, has shown at least 24 animals have survived or been born since fighting broke out in 1996, when WWF conservation specialists had to be evacuated from the area. Garamba is the only known place on Earth where the northern white rhino still exists in the wild.

"We were afraid what we would find," said Dr. Sheila O'Connor, interim director of the WWF Africa and Madagascar Program. "Given the relative instability in the area, it was impossible to carry out any conservation activities for most of last year and it was not until recently that we were able to go into the park, pick up what was left and continue our work. But with an estimate of only 20-30 individuals before the war started, the number of survivors was anybody's guess."

WWF said poachers had been well-established in the 492,000-hectare park late last year, but now it appears they have moved out of the protected area, a savannah ecosystem that offers little cover for the large mammals. Garamba is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the 24 rhinos observed in aerial surveys in Garamba last week, there were at least three young ones born within the last year, with the possibility of a fourth yet to be confirmed. WWF will continue to conduct surveys of the rhinos in Garamba in May. At the end of the month, a more detailed account of the individual rhinos in the park should be available.

Rhino
Conservation groups believe there is still a chance to save the white rhino  

"The new commitment to conservation in Garamba made by the Congolese authorities is another reason for optimism," O'Connor said. "Thanks to the swift action by the authorities we were able to bring in some three tons of equipment for the park that was urgently needed to replace that lost during the war. They have also been very proactive in reorganizing park staff and arranging for delayed salary payments."

The strong drive by the Congolese government to bring the situation in Garamba and other protected areas under control has been fueled by the recognition from authorities, including President Laurent Kabila, that the country -- one of the richest in biological diversity in Africa -- needs to rebuild its conservation agenda.

Following last February's visit to Kinshasa by WWF Director-General Claude Martin, WWF has assisted the new authorities at the Ministry of the Environment and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature in their first steps toward re-establishing conservation programs and partnerships to ensure the sustainable use of the country's vast natural resources.

WWF began its involvement in rhino conservation in Garamba in 1984 when the population of rhinos in the area was thought to be as low as 13. "That there are at least 24 now is for us a great source of encouragement and a testament to the endurance of the species," O'Connor said.

For more information, contact Javier Arreaza, WWF International, 41 22 364 9550, e-mail: jarreaza@wwfnet.org.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

 
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