One of the main threats to the population is illegal hunting (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 East countries). Until recently, at the continental species level, poaching of White Rhinos has not had a serious impact on overall numbers of White Rhinos in Africa, with poaching losses in parts of the range being surpassed by encouraging growth rates in others. From detected and reported figures, the annual average poaching incidents during 2003 to 2005 represented just 0.2 % of the total number of White Rhinos at the end of 2005 (Emslie et al. 2007). However poaching levels have increased dramatically in recent years (Milliken et al. 2009).
Poaching and civil wars in both Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring Sudan have had a devastating impact on Northern White Rhino. Whilst poaching pressure initially increased during civil unrest and war in the late 1990s, good reproduction enabled the population to remain relatively stable. However, since 2003, poaching escalated and the population declined rapidly with 11 carcasses found in a three-month period between March and May 2004. Confirmed numbers of Northern White Rhino fell from 30 individuals in April 2003 to just four in August 2005. No live rhino have been seen since 2006 or signs of live rhino (spoor or dung) reported since 2007 despite intensive systematic foot surveys. It is believed that the Northern White Rhino has probably gone extinct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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