Diceros bicornis longipes


Kingdom Animalia

Female Western black rhino, “Sopen”, shot in August 1996, was one of the last representatives of the Western African black rhinos in the world. Courtesy by Hubert Planton. All rights reserced.

Phylum Chordata 
Class Mammalia
Order Perissodactyla
Family Rhinocerotidae
English Name

Western Black Rhinoceros, 

West African Black Rhinoceros,

Northwestern Black Rhinoceros

Dutch Name Westelijke Zwarte Neushoorn
French Name Rhinocéros Noir de l’Ouest
German Name Westliches Spitzmaulnashorn
Italian Name Rinoceronte Nero Occidentale
Spanish Name Rinoceronte Negro Occidental
Authority Zukowsky, 1949
Comments Although this black rhinoceros subspecies has been tentatively declared as extinct by the the World Conservation Union (IUCN), not everyone agrees with this conclusion! New surveys will be conducted and might result in the "rediscovery" of the western black rhinoceros. The 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessed this subspecies as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).
Characteristics The black rhino has a length of 3-3.8 m (10-12.5 ft), a height of 1.4-1.7 m (4.5-5.5 ft), and a weight of 800-1350 kg (1750-3000 lbs). It has two horn. The larger anterior (front) horn measures 0.5-1.3 m (1 ft 8 in-4ft 4in), while the smaller posterior (rear) horn measures 2-55 cm (1-22 in). This rhino has a relatively pointed snout with a pointed prehensile lip. (IRF. 2001)
Range & Habitat The West African black rhino once ranged throughout the savannah zones of central-west Africa. The last  survivors of this subspecies remained in northern Cameroon. (African Rhino Specialist Group 2003b)

Image: location of the last Western black rhinos (red). Created by Peter Maas for The Extinction Website. This image has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 Licence.

Food The black rhino is principally a browser, using its prehensile upper lip to grasp stems, branches, twigs and leaves. (Emslie & Brooks 1999)
History & Population In recent years, the Western black rhino had fallen from a population of around 3000 to just a dozen. (Times Online 2006)

The black rhino has suffered great losses due to hunting and poaching particularly in the beginning of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1930s, a spectacular rehabilitation of the numbers of the Western black rhino was observed when the administration introduced strong protection measures. Afterwards, efforts to protect wildlife declined and since the 1980s the harmful effects became clearly visible. (Planton 1999)

In 1980, an estimated 25 western black rhino were still alive in Chad, but by 1990 it was considered extinct in this country. Also in 1980 an estimated 110 individuals were present in northern Cameroon, but by May 1993 this population had declined to between 30 and 35 animals. During 1994 three more killed rhinos were reported, and in 1996 at least another four animals were killed. Two rhinos are known to have been poached since 1996, one of which had been radio-tagged. WWF-sponsored surveys of range areas in 1996–97 indicated that at least 10 rhinos remained, with a possible eight others unconfirmed. (Emslie & Brooks 1999)

In 2000, Dr Martin Brooks, IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group chairman, estimated that just ten of the rhinos were still alive and could have drifted too far apart from each other to breed (Times Online 2006). Genetic research showed that the Western black rhino showed the least genetic diversity (Harley et al. 2005).

Early 2006, a trio of experts systematically scoured 2,500 kilometres (1,200 miles) of habitat in northern Cameroon. This intensive survey of the West African black rhino has failed to locate any sign of their continued presence in their last refuges in northern Cameroon. As a result the World Conservation Union (IUCN) announced that this subspecies has been tentatively declared as extinct. (IUCN 2006)

However, not everyone agrees that the western black rhinoceros is truly extinct. Dr Hubert Planton, a French veterinarian in Cameroon who found these rhinos yearly between 1988 and 2003 with help of old experienced tracker, is one of the persons that disagrees. He registered an association named “Kilifori”, after the Fulani name for the western black rhinoceros. Planton claims that the survey has been conducted by a team without any rhino nor African experience. Association Kilifori teams in Cameroon have, in the last two months, found encouraging signs of recent rhino activity. These signs came from three areas: Faro National Park, Makat-Kotape (between Bénoué and Bouba N’Djidda National Parks), and Bouba N’Djidda. Another site South of the Vina river might be worth investigating according Planton. It seems there were still rhinos in these places in late 2005, and up to April 2006. Association Kilifori, in conjunction with WildTrack, intends to undertake a field mission to Cameroon in the next few months to confirm the continued presence of the western black rhinoceros. 

Anyone interested in helping funding this important field action can contact Association Kilifori or Dr Hubert Planton.

Extinction Causes The extinction of this subspecies of black rhino was caused by pouching for their horn, lack of finance, limited anti-poaching efforts, limited local capacity for conservation management, failure of courts to hand down sentences that can act as a deterrent to potential poachers, and genetic and demographic factors. (African Rhino Specialist Group 2003b)
Conservation Attempts This black rhino subspecies was included on CITES Appendix I. In 1993, following an international mission and workshop held at Garoua, an action plan for Cameroon was developed but was never implemented. In 2000, a high level stakeholders workshop was held in Cameroon to discuss potential strategies to try to prevent the extinction of this subspecies. Five were thought to survive in the wild, but surveys in 2001 failed to find and photograph these remaining animals. Confirmed evidence of the survival of this animal was necessary to proceed to the next stage of the recovery plan. There are no captive specimens of this animal. (African Rhino Specialist Group 2003b)
Relatives The other three recognised subspecies of the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) are the South-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor), the South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis), and the Eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli). The South-western black rhino from Namibia and South Africa is vulnerable, but the South-central black rhino and the Eastern black rhino are critically endangered. As a whole the black rhino species is critically endangered. (African Rhino Specialist Group 2003a)

Image: South-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor). Courtesy by Richard Emslie. All rights reserved.

The black rhino faces a variety of threats. One of the main threats to the population is poaching for the international rhino horn trade. Rhino horn has two main uses: traditional use in Chinese medicine, and ornamental use (for example, rhino horn is a highly prized material for making ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers (Jambiyas) worn in some Middle Eastern  countries, like Yemen). (African Rhino Specialist Group 2003a)

Links International Rhino Foundation
References African Rhino Specialist Group 2003. Diceros bicornis. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 14 July 2006. (Available online)

African Rhino Specialist Group 2003. Diceros bicornis ssp. longipes. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 14 July 2006. (Available online)

Emslie, R. and Brooks, M. (1999) African Rhino. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ix + 92 pp. (Available online)

Harley, E.H., Baumgarten, I., Cunningham, J., and O'Ryan, C. 2005. Genetic variation and population structure in remnant populations of black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, in Africa. Molecular Ecology 14(10): 2981-2990.

IRF 2001. Black Rhino Information. International Rhino Foundation. Downloaded on 14 July 2006.

IUCN 2006. West African black rhino feared extinct. News release of 07 July 2006. The World Conservation Union (IUCN). (Available online)

Planton, H. 1999. Rhinoceros Noir du Nord Ouest de l’Afrique (Diceros bicornis longipes): Le Compte à Rebours Continue. Pachyderm 27: 86-100. (Available online)

Times Online 2006. West African black rhino 'is extinct'. Times Newspapers Limited. (Available online)

Last updated: 18th December 2008.

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