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Wildlife Camera » White rhino: a story of success and setbacks

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White rhino: a story of success and setbacks

7 September 2007


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white rhinos

The birth of Mazumba, a white rhino, at Blair Drummond Safari Park in Scotland set camera shutters clicking, and the seven-stone baby is guaranteed to draw visitors to the park over the next few weeks. The birth is one of only five in Europe this year and has drawn attention to the unexpected successes and setbacks of white rhino conservation.

In the wild, especially in South Africa, the rescue of the southern white rhino (above) has been a major triumph. The total number in 1895 was reckoned to be less than 50, and possibly as few as 20. Today there are nearly 15,000 in reserves throughout southern Africa and they are the stars of many safari holidays.

But the closely related northern race has plunged to the edge of extinction within recent years, hunted by poachers and rebels in its last reserve on the borders of the Congo and Sudan. There may be only four left in the wild, according to a recent survey, with another 10 in captivity, most of them in one zoo in the Czech Republic and too old to breed.

Wild-caught white rhinos of the southern race breed very well in captivity – the San Diego Wildlife Park in California, for example, has raised nearly 100 since 1972 – but the females born in zoos and safari parks are slow to reproduce for reasons that no one understands. They live for up to 40 years, but they breed erratically.

International conservation organisations agree that South Africa’s programme for the white rhino has been a success: “Selling limited sport hunting of surplus males attracts large revenues and powerful incentives for private sector conservation, and generates much needed funds to help pay the high cost of successfully monitoring, protecting and managing them.” South Africa is currently licensed to sell live rhinos to approved overseas buyers and also to export hunting trophies.

Meanwhile, the northern race may be about to disappear, exactly 100 years after it was recognised as a separate sub-species. The specimen on which the distinction was based was shot in Equatorial Central Africa by big game hunter Major Percy Powell-Cotton, of Quex Park, in Kent, and presented to the Natural History Museum in London in 1908. In his honour it was named Ceratotherium simum cottoni.
 – From Alliance Press Features Correspondent, London (copyright).  Photo of South African white rhinos by Nico Smit, iStockphoto, copyright.


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