Toggle Nav

Rhino

Overview

  • Length
    4-10 ft.
  • Habitats
    Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannahs and shrublands, tropical moist forests, deserts and xeric shrublands

Rhinos once roamed many places throughout Eurasia and Africa and were known to early Europeans who depicted them in cave paintings. Long ago they were widespread across Africa's savannas and Asia's tropical forests. But today very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Two species of rhino in Asia– Javan and Sumatran – are Critically Endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011. A small population of the Javan rhino still clings for survival on the Indonesian island of Java. Successful conservation efforts have helped the third Asian species, the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino, to increase in number. Their status was changed from Endangered to Vulnerable, but the species is still poached for its horn.

In Africa, Southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as Near Threatened. But the Northern white rhino subspecies is believed to be extinct in the wild and only a few captive individuals remain in a sanctuary in Kenya. Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of 2,480 individuals, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century.

Rhino Horn’s Real Value and Other Rhino Facts

WWF is one of the few organizations attempting to tackle all threats to rhinos. We work on strengthening protected areas in Africa and Asia, lobbying to halt the illegal timber trade that threatens rhino habitat, and stamping out the illegal trade in rhino horn.

two black rhino

Why They Matter

  • In almost all rhino conservation areas, there are other valuable plants and animals. The protection of rhinos helps protect other species including elephants, buffalo, and small game. Rhinos contribute to economic growth and sustainable development through the tourism industry, which creates job opportunities and provides tangible benefits to local communities living alongside rhinos. Rhinos are one of the "Big 5" animals popular on African safaris and they are a popular tourism draw in places like the Eastern Himalayas.

Threats

Ranger holding a huge confiscated rhino horn

Ranger holding a huge confiscated rhino horn.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

Although international trade in rhino horn has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1977, demand remains high and fuels rhino poaching in both Africa and Asia. Criminal syndicates link the killing fields in countries like South Africa through a whole series of transit points and smuggling channels on to the final destination in Asia. The main market is now in Vietnam where there is a newly emerged belief that rhino horn cures cancer. Rhino horn is also used in other traditional Asian medicine to treat a variety of ailments including fever and various blood disorders. It is also used in some Asian cultures as a cure for hangovers.

Habitat Loss

Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra is thought to have one of the largest populations of Sumatran rhinos, but it is losing forest cover due to conversion for coffee and rice by illegal settlers. In southern Zimbabwe, privately owned rhino conservancies have been invaded by landless people. This reduces the amount of safe habitat for rhino populations and increases the risk of poaching and snaring.

Reduced Genetic Diversity

The small size of the Javan rhino population is in itself a cause for concern. Low genetic diversity could make it hard for the species to remain viable.

Natural Disasters

Ujung Kulon National Park, home to Javan rhinos, is highly vulnerable to tsunamis and a major explosion of the Anak Krakatau volcano could easily wipe out all life in the protected area.

Disease

In recent years four Javan rhinos, including one young adult female, are thought to have died from disease, probably transmitted to wild cattle in the park and subsequently to the rhinos.

 

What WWF Is Doing

Flying Rhinos

In October 2011, WWF helped to successfully establish a new black rhino population in a safer, more spacious location. Nineteen critically endangered black rhinos were transported via helicopter to a land vehicle. They spent less than 10 minutes in the air and the sedated animals woke up in a new home. Translocations reduce pressure on existing wildlife reserves and provide new territory where rhinos have a greater opportunity to increase in number. Creating more dispersed and better protected populations also helps keep rhinos safe from poachers. This work was done by the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP), a partnership between WWF-South Africa, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism.

Rhinos

Black rhinos under watch from armed guards due to poaching.

Protecting Sumatran Rhino Habitat

In Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, the critically endangered population of 60–80 Sumatran rhinos is threatened by the conversion of forest to cash crops on both the eastern and western sides of the island’s central mountain range. WWF works with park officials to collect population data on the rhinos, and with local communities to halt deforestation and preserve and restore natural habitat. We also support antipoaching efforts in the park.

Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade

WWF is setting up an Africa-wide rhino database using rhino horn DNA analysis (RhoDIS), which contributes to forensic investigations at the scene of the crime and for court evidence to greatly strengthen prosecution cases. In South Africa and Kenya, it has been circulated into law as legal evidence in courts and rhino management. This work is done with institutions like the University of Pretoria Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

In Namibia, WWF we worked with the government and other partners to develop innovative new transmitters to track rhino movements and protect them against poaching. We also helped set up and promote a free and confidential phone hotline that allows people to inform the authorities about poaching safely and anonymously. WWF developed this tool with the Government of Namibia and Mobile Telecommunications Limited. Rhino poaching in Namibia is now at an all time low.

TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, has played a vital role in bilateral law enforcement efforts between South Africa and Vietnam. This has gone hand-in-hand with written commitments to strengthen border and ports monitoring as well as information sharing in order to disrupt the illegal trade chain activities and bring the perpetrators to justice for their crimes against rhinos.

Stopping Forest Conversion

Surveys by WWF, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Sabah Foundation (SF) found the largest known Sumatran rhino population on the island of Borneo. Together we run rhino monitoring units to prevent poaching. WWF also works with local landholders, agri-businesses, and the government to stop the conversion of more than 7,722 square miles of forest to oil palm and timber plantations between Kinabatangan and Sebuku Sembakung. The destruction of this forest would likely lead to poaching of the remaining Sumatran rhinos in the area.

Monitoring and Tracking Javan Rhinos

WWF conducts ongoing research on the Javan rhino, which continues to reveal critical information about behavioral patterns, distribution, movement, population size, sex ratio and genetic diversity. We also work closely with the Ujung Kulon National Park Authority to keep track of rhino populations. In 2010, we received camera trap footage of two Javan rhinos and two of their calves in the dense tropical rainforests of the protected area. The videos prove that one of the world’s rarest mammals are breeding. Before these camera trap images surfaced, only twelve other Javan rhino births were recorded in the past decade.

Establishing New Populations

WWF and its partners are working on the development of a program to translocate Javan rhinos from Ujung Kulon National Park to establish a new population in other suitable habitat in Indonesia. This new habitat would eliminate the threat of natural disasters and create two populations.

Monitoring and Protection of White Rhinos

To monitor and protect white rhinos WWF focuses on better-integrated intelligence gathering networks on rhino poaching and trade, more antipoaching patrols and better equipped conservation law enforcement officers. WWF is setting up an Africa-wide rhino database using rhino horn DNA analysis (RhoDIS), which contributes to forensic investigations at the scene of the crime and for court evidence to greatly strengthen prosecution cases. In South Africa and Kenya, it has been circulated into law as legal evidence in courts and rhino management. This work is done with institutions like the University of Pretoria Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. We also support a South African white rhino web-based data system.

Strengthening Local and International Law Enforcement

Rhinos

WWF supports accredited training in environmental and crime courses, some of which have been adopted by South Africa Wildlife College. Special prosecutors have been appointed in countries like Kenya and South Africa to prosecute rhino crimes in a bid to deal with the mounting arrests and bring criminals to face swift justice with commensurate penalties. TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, has played a vital role in bilateral law enforcement efforts between South Africa and Vietnam. This has gone hand-in-hand with written commitments to strengthen border and ports monitoring as well as information sharing in order to disrupt the illegal trade chain activities and bring the perpetrators to justice for their crimes against rhinos.

Projects

  • Wildlife Crime Technology Project

    The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in wildlife crime. In December 2012, Google awarded WWF a $5 million Global Impact Award to create an umprella of technology to protect wildlife.

  • Camera Trap Video of a Rhino

    WWF captured the first-ever camera trap video of a rhino in Borneo. While a "camera trap" might sound menacing, it actually does not harm wildlife. The name is derived from the manner in which it "captures" wildlife on film.

Experts

Related Species

xShare Your Thoughts!

Just 10 minutes of your time can help improve our site! Answer a few quick questions and you can help us make worldwildlife.org better.

Start SurveyClose this box