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More of Africa urged to boost rhino numbers

KwaZulu Natal, South Africa– After bringing Africa’s black rhinos back from the brink of extinction one of the most successful conservation programs celebrates its first decade by seeking to extend its operations to more of Africa.

Today government representatives of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia are expected to join in WWF’s African Rhino Program 10th anniversary celebration in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.  They will join government and wildlife representatives, community representatives and eco-tourism operators from the current ARP participating states of South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

“What we know from looking back at the last ten years is that sustained conservation can and does work,” says George Kampamba, WWF International’s African Rhino Program Coordinator. 

Most of Africa’s black rhinos are currently found in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe, where the species’ decline has been stopped through effective security monitoring, better biological management, wildlife-based tourism and extensive assistance to enable communities to benefit from rather than be in conflict with wildlife.

In 1997, there were 8,466 white rhinos and 2,599 black rhinos remaining in the wild.  Today there are 14,500 white rhinos and nearly 4,000 of the more endangered black rhinos.

While WWF worked on rhino conservation throughout its 45-year history, the ARP was notable for its overall approach.  Working through field projects, it combined action at every level from local communities to global policy.

One striking and unexpected indicator of the program’s success is that land prices immediately increase in areas where rhinos are re-introduced through a range expansion program.  The ARP, which has reintroduced rhinos to national parks, also passed a milestone last year when a KwaZulu Natal community received black rhinos for community-owned land dedicated to wildlife and ecotourism uses.

“It shows that it’s possible to stave off extinction for the rhino in some of its former range by working together with governments, communities and business,” said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, director, WWF Species Program. “Now we must secure a future for the rhino in the rest of its range where threats from poaching and development urgently need to be addressed.”

Africa’s savannas once teemed with more than a million white and black rhinos. However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline. The southern white rhino was close to extinction by the late 19th century but concerted conservation efforts have led to a significantly larger population. 

Both species of African rhino were listed in 1977 in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibited all international trade of rhino parts and products. Despite this international legal protection, the black rhino population at its lowest point dipped to 2,400 in 1995.

In celebration of a decade of rhino conservation, WWF also honored seven leaders as “rhino champions” at Pongola Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal.  These rhino champions have made extraordinary contributions to rhino conservation.

Emmanuel-Cebo Gumbi (known as “Nathi Gumbi”) director, Somkhanda Game Reserve, and member of the Gumbi royal family

Kevin John Pretorius, regional director, Phinda Game Reserve

Clive Vivier, owner, Leopold Mountain Game Reserve

Manfred Kohrs, former chairman, Pongola Game Reserve Association

Dr. Jacques Flammand, project leader, WWF/Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.

Dr. Taye Teferi, conservation director, WWF’s East Africa Regional Program

Jackson Kamwi, senior rhino monitor, Lowveld Conservancy Project 


About World Wildlife Fund:

For more than 45 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level, from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Go to to learn more.


  • In 1997, WWF established its African Rhino Program, which continues to provide a coordinated approach for WWF’s interventions and contributions to the conservation and management of black and white rhinos in Africa. The program assists African governments in developing and implementing effective national rhino conservation; works to eliminate the illegal trade in rhino horn; and strengthens ties with local communities where rhinos live, building capacity among all stakeholders.


  • Until recently, there were six subspecies of African rhinos — two white rhino and four black rhino. However, in the last five years, the western black subspecies has probably become extinct, and the northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction. Where range state governments are committed and engaged in conservation efforts, for the benefit of both the species and local communities, populations are recovering.


  • The population of black rhinos across Africa was reduced drastically by poaching, from an estimated 65,000 rhinos in the 1970s to less than 3,000 in the 1990s. The black rhinoceros has four subspecies, of which three (Diceros bicornis bicornis, D.b. Michaeli and D.b. longipes) are listed as “Critically Endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.