NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) -- The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared Africa's Western Black Rhinoceros to be extinct, only weeks after the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam was also declared extinct.
The IUCN declared the subspecies extinct and warned that others are also on the brink of extinction as a result of widespread poaching. The head of the United Nations-backed convention on endangered species has called for the stepping up of efforts by countries and international organizations to combat the illegal trade in rhino horn.
"We're extremely worried about today's news," said John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). "To hear about the extinction of the subspecies from West Africa is of grave concern. We have grave concern for the rhino more generally."
The Western Black Rhinoceros were once widespread in central-west Africa, but the subspecies became heavily hunted in the beginning of the 20th century. Although preservation actions in the 1930s allowed the species to partially recover, protection efforts later declined.
In 1980, the population of the subspecies had declined to several hundred, most of them in northern Cameroon. By 2000, only about a dozen Western Black Rhinoceros were thought to be alive, and a survey in 2006 found none to be alive. No sightings of the animal have been reported since, and none were held in captivity.
According to CITES, 330 rhinos have been killed this year alone, poached for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across South East Asia. Demand for the horn is at an all time high, with prices reaching more than $50,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
"We cannot rely upon the responses historically used. We need to involve the police, in a way that can combat criminal gangs. We need to involve world customs at a much greater level; we need to get the justice system treating illegal trade in wildlife, in particular rhino horn, as serious crime," Scanlon said.
The Secretary-General added that these measures are needed to protect all endangered species, not just the rhino. Illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion per year, driving many species closer to extinction.
Last month, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation confirmed that Javan rhinoceros have also been driven to complete extinction in Vietnam. With the complete extinction in Vietnam, only one small group remains in the wild: the 40 to 50 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon in Indonesia.
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