Garamba National Park, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, was established in 1938. One of Africa's oldest National parks, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Garamba is (or at least was) the home to the world's last known wild population of Northern White Rhinoceros. Due to poaching of the rhinos within the park, it was added to the list of World Heritage in Danger in 1996. The park is also well known for its African elephant domestication programme started in the 1960s, which managed to train tourist-rideable animals from the naturally wild beasts.
The park was first placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in the mid-1980s after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources(IUCN) estimated that as few as 15 northern white rhinos remained. The World Wildlife Fund, Frankfurt Zoological Society and UNESCO/IUCN worked with the then Zairian government to rehabilitate the park. The effort paid off and the park was removed from the danger list in 1992 (Avant, 2004, 367). However, in 1991, a nearby town was captured by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and refugees began to migrate in to areas surrounding the park, growing to 50,000 by 1993. The inflow of refugees and members or former members of the SPLA also brought automatic weapons and military equipment into use in the taking of bushmeat from the animal populations within the park. The Garamba park guards were not capable of securing the park against the more heavily armed and trained poachers. There were 121 shoot-outs in the park between 1993 and 1995. African Buffalo and elephants fell to the poachers. In 1996, two of the white rhinos were killed, leading to the return of Garamba to the World Heritage Site Danger List in that same year (Avant, 2004, 368).
Current Situation of the White Rhino
Despite the best efforts of dedicated conservationists, it has been predicted that the northern white rhinos will be declared extinct relatively soon. While poaching is automatically pointed to as the direct cause, the volatile political situation in the area is the main reason such poaching has been allowed to flourish. Efforts to provide protection to the Rhinos and other protected animals have been undermined, and plans to transition the rhino to havens in Kenya have been stymied. The Congolese have even referred to Western conservationists as “modern- day poachers.” They maintain that the white rhino is their symbol of “national pride” and that outsiders have no right to take away their symbol. Yet, the government continues to do very little to keep the “symbol” alive in the park. In fact, the main reason the Rhino has remained in existence for so long is due to international efforts, but these have recently collapsed and now the rhino bodyguards have no support. Now it seems the current trend is harassing any ranger who is brought in to protect the park; whether the ranger is African or foreign seems to make no difference to the poachers, who are often those involved in the Sudanese conflicts. A mere four individuals were recorded in an aerial survey of the park in 2005 - a solo male, and a group of a male and two females. Summarily no confirmed sightings have been recorded since 2006, and given the continual civil unrest in the area, these four are now presumed dead, spelling the extinction of this subspecies in the wild.