Black rhino extinct in West Africa

Posted: 10 November 2011

The Black Rhino in western Africa  has officially been declared extinct, according to the latest update of the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species.

The Northern White Rhino in central Africa is also teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as Possibly Extinct in the Wild. And the Javan Rhino is also making its last stand.

outhern White Rhino
The Southern White Rhino is listed as Near Threatened.

The IUCN has now reviewed more than 61,900 species, which the agency says is ‘another big step forward toward developing the IUCN Red List into a true ‘Barometer of Life.’ .

“This update offers both good and bad news on the status of many species around the world,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources, the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever.”

IUCN says that 25 per cent of the planet’s mammals are at risk of extinction, of which the rhinos are one example. The last Javan Rhino in Vietnam was probably killed by poachers in 2010, reducing the species to a single, tiny, declining population on Java. A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos and increasing illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.

“Human beings are stewards of the earth and we are responsible for protecting the species that share our environment,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented. These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction.”

Conservation successes

Several conservation successes have already been achieved, says IUCN. These include the Southern White Rhino which has increased from a population of less than 100 at the end of the 19th century, to an estimated wild population of over 20,000. The Przewalski’s Horse is another success story, improving its status from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Originally, it was listed as Extinct in the Wild in 1996, but thanks to a captive breeding programme and a successful reintroduction programme, the population is now estimated at more than 300.

Reptiles make up a significant component of biodiversity, particularly in dryland habitats and on islands around the world. In recent years, many more reptile species have been assessed including most of those found in Madagascar. The current Red List reveals that an alarming 40 per cent of Madagascar’s terrestrial reptiles are threatened.

Calumma tarzan
Calumma tarzan has entered the IUCN Red List in 2011 as Critically Endangered. It is restricted to the lowland moist forests of Madagascar, parts of which are affected by slash-and-burn farming and selective logging. Photo © IUCN/Jörn Köhler

The 22 Madagascan species currently identified as Critically Endangered, which include chameleons, geckoes, skinks and snakes, are now a conservation challenge. Encouragingly, there are new conservation areas being designated in Madagascar that will help conserve a significant proportion of Critically Endangered species'

Plants are still underrepresented on the IUCN Red List. Work to change this includes a review of all Conifers, but the results are disturbing. The Chinese Water Fir, for example, formerly widespread throughout China and Vietnam has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered. The main cause of decline is the loss of habitat to expanding intensive agriculture and in China there appear to be no wild plants remaining.

The largest of the recently discovered stands in LAO PDR was killed through flooding for a newly constructed hydro scheme and very few, if any, of the trees in Viet Nam produce viable seeds, meaning that this species is rapidly moving towards becoming Extinct in the Wild.

Cancer drug

Another example is a plant, found in the Himalayas, used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug. It , has been over-exploited for medicinal use and over-collection for fuel wood and fodder, and is now . listed as Endangered. Many other tropical plant species are also at risk.

The majority of endemic flowering plants in the Seychelles are at risk of extinction. Most of these are new assessments but one species, the infamous Coco de Mer has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. Known for its supposed aphrodisiac properties, the Coco de Mer faces threats from fires and illegal harvesting of its kernels. Presently, all collection and sale of its seed is highly regulated, but there is thought to be a significant black market trade in kernels.

Among marine animals, the situation is particularly serious for tunas, with five of the eight species of tuna Threatened or Near Threatened.. These include: Southern; Atlantic Bluefin,; Bigeye, Yellowfin and Albacore. IUCN says this should help governmentsl safeguard the future of these species, many of which are of extremely high economic value.

Amphibians are literally ‘hopping pharmacies’ being used in the search for new medicines, says IUCN, but are one of the most threatened groups. Now 26 recently discovered Amphibians have been added to the Red List. Among those in danger are the Blessed Poison Frog and the Summers’ Poison Frog, both threatened by habitat loss and harvesting for the international pet trade.

Commenting on the latest findings, “Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme, said: “The world is full of marvelous species that are rapidly moving towards becoming things of myth and legend if conservation efforts are not more successfully implemented — if we do not act now, future generations may not know what a Chinese Water Fir or a Bizarre-nosed Chameleon look like.”

IUCN Red List

Click here to see a WWF video of black rhinos being translocated by helicopter in South Africa as part of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.