Protecting the black rhino in the wild is considerably less expensive than preserving the endangered animals in captivity, a recent AWF-sponsored study has found.
Poaching has resulted in a 95 percent decline in the world's black rhino population over the last three decades to fewer than 2,600 in 1997. The only surviving populations live in protected areas, sanctuaries established in the wild or captive breeding programs, typically in zoos and open paddocks.
The study was conducted by Dominic Currie, a master's degree student at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Biology at the University of Kent. Currie compared costs and the outcomes at seven sites representing various management approaches, including:
* protected areas--a large conservation area designated in its entirety for rhino protection (South Africa's Kruger National Park), and an intensive protection zone, which is a smaller, clearly identified zone within a larger area (Kenya's Tsavo East National Park);
* sanctuaries--small, intensely managed, high-security "breeding banks" that ultimately release rhinos into adequately protected larger areas (the AWF-supported Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, South Africa's Addo Elephant National Park and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya); and
* captivity sites (the White Oak Captive Breeding Center in Florida and the Cincinnati Zoo).
The average annual cost of protecting one rhino in protected areas was $1,657; the cost in captivity ranged from $16,300 to $28,176. (Captive populations usually number fewer than 100 rhinos each. They have value in educating the public about rhino conservation.) Sanctuaries took the middle ground, with the cost between $3,315 and $14,399 per rhino.
"The study clearly indicates that preserving populations in the wild is more cost-effective to rhino conservation than preserving them in captivity," says Philip Muruthi, director of the AWF Species and Ecosystems program.
Conservation areas and intensive protection zones, on the other hand, provide natural environments where the animals can survive and breed. But they do have disadvantages. Providing adequate security is difficult, Muruthi points out, because resources in large reserves are often spread too thin.
Nonetheless, the report recommends "that where possible funds should be invested in well-managed protection of the black rhino in the wild."
"We hope to use these findings," Muruthi says, "as a practical guide to planning successful, economical strategies for conserving this remarkable animal."
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