Congo Attack Reinforces Fears Of Imminent Rhino Extinction | WWF

Congo Attack Reinforces Fears Of Imminent Rhino Extinction

Posted on
17 December 1998
Gland, Switzerland.- The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could soon bring about the extinction one of the worlds most endangered subspecies of rhinoceros, the international conservation organization WWF warned today.

Increased violence in the rhino sector of Garamba National Park, in northeastern DRC, led to an attack on a park ranger patrol looking for signs of the last few Northern White Rhinos remaining in the wild on November 27, 1998. According to the information provided by park staff in the area, the attackers seemed to be part of a group linked to the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). Three park guards were injured, one of them by gun fire.

The situation is critical: we are trying to deliver food and medicine to park staff who are courageously trying to continue monitoring the situation of the rhinos in spite of the difficulties imposed by the war, said Dr. Claude Martin, Director General of WWF. However, this attack and the fact that it happened in the heart of the rhino territory lead us to believe that the world may have to prepare itself for the loss of a unique rhino subspecies.

Only 25 rhinos were counted in Garamba when the last aerial population count was carried out by WWF in May this year. Since the current hostilities broke out on 2 August and the entire Oriental Province was subsequently occupied by the Ugandan army, no other reconnaissance flights have been possible. With park vehicles put out of circulation by the war, all conservation work in the 5,000-ha rhino area must be carried out on foot.

We are calling on the forces of the SPLA and the Ugandan Army to do everything in their power to reduce the risk of this extinction taking place at the hands of people profiting from the disruption in patrolling activities, said Dr. Martin.

Like all other rhinos, the Northern White Rhino is a potential target for poachers attracted by the high prices rhino horn commands on the international black market. WWF fears that the combination of high quantities of firearms with a severe reduction in patrolling and conservation activities in Garamba could mean the end for the Northern White Rhino in the wild.

At this stage it is impossible to tell what the real situation of the rhinos is. We have received indirect reports of some rhino deaths, but the current state of affairs makes verification impossible, Dr. Martin said. In addition to helping provide supplies to the beleaguered Garamba park staff, WWF is continuing to support two rear bases outside the park, to allow for a quick resumption of patrolling and conservation activities as soon as the current situation improves.

Overall, there are two species of rhinos in Africa, the Black Rhino --found mostly in southern Africa, Kenya and Cameroon-- and the White Rhino. While the DRCs Northern White Rhino is the most endangered of the two subspecies of White Rhino, the Southern White Rhino is much more numerous and is found mostly in southern Africa.

Garamba National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and placed on the Heritage in Danger list in 1996.

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For more information, please contact Javier Arreaza (jarreaza@wwfnet.org) at tel. +41 22 364 9267.

TV video footage of Garamba National Park and the Northern White Rhinoceros available from the WWF TV & Film Centre, Zeist, The Netherlands, Attn. Mr. Marc Dehond (mdehond@wwfnet.org), tel. +31 30 69 37 385.

For more on-line information, go to "Related Information" (at the left of this page) and here for a report on WWF's work with rhinos over the last 40 years!