We all gasped in amazement at photos of a black rhinoceros being airlifted upside down to an area of South Africa where it stood a better chance at reproducing. Inconceivably, a new report suggests there's no other rhinos for it to reproduce with.
The Red List, an annual state-of-the-endangered-species report compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has declared the black rhino extinct. Not endangered — gone.
As well as declaring the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) extinct, it records the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), a subspecies in central Africa, as being on the brink of extinction.
The reason: Their "golden horn," which is used in Chinese herbalist medicine and as dagger handles in the Middle East, commands a huge price on the black market and has long made the animal a favorite target of poachers. (It should be noted that the Red List's assessment contradicts the far less dire one quoted by the World Wildlife Fund, which had estimated that 4,240 black rhinos were still alive.) The Red List also estimated that 25% of the world's mammals are "at risk of extinction."
UPDATE: Pam Sherriffs of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (the rhino airlifting people) writes to explain the confusion over the extinction of the black rhino: There are actually four black rhino sub-species. Only one is extinct.
"There were four sub-species of black rhino in Africa - now possibly only three, as one sub-species is thought to have recently gone extinct. However, there are about 4800 black rhino altogether in the wild at latest count. Of these just over 1900 are found in South Africa. The 19 black rhino being translocated are all of the sub-species Diceros bicornis minor. The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has created seven new populations of black rhino over the last eight years, with the aim of increasing numbers as quickly as possible. We have translocated just under 120 black rhino to create these new founder populations on large areas of land with the capacity to sustain significant populations. With a critically endangered species, it's essential to manage for rapid population growth as well as to focus on security.
Africa has two kinds of rhino - black rhino and white rhino. White rhino are no longer on the critically endangered list and are rather rated as "vulnerable". There are about 20 000 white rhino left. Black rhino are still listed as critically endangered although their numbers have almost doubled since the early 1990s. The current poaching onslaught is obviously threatening conservation gains made over the last decade or so."