Home | News    Thursday 20 May 2004

White rhinos on the critical list-conservationists

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By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON, May 20 (Reuters) - The northern white rhino, one of the world’s most endangered animals, could be extinct in the wild within months unless poaching by Sudanese rebels stops, conservationists said on Thursday as they launched an urgent appeal for funds.

The world’s 25 or so remaining wild white rhinos all live in the Garamba National Park, a United Nations World Heritage Site on the northern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo with Sudan.

Kes Hillman-Smith, a coordinator of the Garamba National Park project, said poaching had increased as Sudanese rebels said to be from the area of conflict around Darfur hunt down the rhinos for their valuable horns and tusks.

"It is the first time they have come into Garamba," said Hillman-Smith, in London for a meeting organised by the UK Save The Rhino group. "It’s a worrying situation if the poaching continues at such an alarming rate," he told Reuters.

"Unless there is a major level of support, we are going to lose the last population of northern white rhinos," Hillman-Smith said. "We urgently need more funds to bring in better equipment."

The rhino numbers have dwindled from almost 500 in the late 1970s. Last week, two park rangers were killed by a group of poachers, Hillman-Smith said.

Once out of the park, the poachers are thought to head to the southern Sudanese town of Yambio, where traders buy ivory and rhino horn from the Congo and Central African Republic.

The Garamba National Park has long been a magnet for poachers who prey on its rich wildlife, which also includes elephants, hippos, buffaloes and chimpanzees.

The U.N. cultural heritage body UNESCO runs a project to protect wildlife from the effects of violence in Congo, which is struggling to emerge from a devastating five-year regional conflict that killed at least three million people, mostly from starvation and disease.

The United States has been involved in efforts to reach a peace deal between Sudan’s government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, which has been fighting for 20 years for autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist south.

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