By FRANK JORDANS
GENEVA - Lax anti-poaching efforts are to blame for the loss of the last wild specimens of Western Black Rhino, leading the rhinoceros subspecies to be declared officially extinct this week, conservationists said Friday.
Researchers estimate about 10 of the long-legged West African variety of Black Rhino survived in Cameroon until 2000.
Prized by poachers for their horns, which are used as trophies and in traditional medicine, the Western Black Rhino now exists only in zoos.
"There were very limited anti-poaching efforts in place to save the animals, and anyone caught poaching was not sentenced, hence no deterrents were in place," said Craig Hilton-Taylor of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Its loss is significant because the Western Black Rhino is genetically distinct from other rhino subspecies. Reintroducing animals born into captivity is costly and may be impossible, experts say.
Efforts to preserve other subspecies of Black Rhinos in Eastern and Southern Africa have been more successful, but there too poachers are taking their toll.
About 100,000 Eastern Black Rhino roamed the continent at the beginning of the 20th century, before their numbers plummeted to just 1,500 in the 1960s. Today, about 4,500 exist thanks to intesive breeding and conservation efforts.
But according to Robert Zingg, curator at Zurich Zoo, poachers have killed more than 350 animals in South Africa alone this year.
"The latest figures are anything but encouraging," Zingg said. His zoo is part of a breeding program for Eastern Black Rhinos.
Hilton-Taylor, who manages the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of endangered species, said other rhino populations such as the Northern White Rhino are also at risk.
"It is down as far as we know just to four semi-captive animals that have been moved from a zoo in the Czech Republic to a semi-wild situation on a ranch in Kenya," he told The Associated Press.
There have also been unverified reports of wild animals in Congo and what is now South Sudan, but even if those populations survive they would be very small and vulnerable to poachers.
On Thursday, IUCN released an updated Red List covering about 62,000 species.
Those found to be critically endangered include the San Jose Brush Rabbit and the Red Crested Tree Rat, which was recently rediscovered after disappearing from sight for more than a century.
Hilton-Taylor said the European Mink was found to be in "a much worse situation than previously thought," while the last remaining Wollemi Pine of Australia could be wiped out quickly by a fungal infection that has appeared in the area where it occurs.
Meanwhile, the critically endangered Tarzan Chameleon could get a boost if its habitat on the island of Madagascar is proclaimed a protected area, he said.
Red List: http://www.iucnredlist.org/