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Black Rhino


  • Status
    Critically Endangered
  • Population
    5,000 – 5,400
  • Scientific Name
    Diceros bicornis
  • Height
    5.2 feet
  • Weight
    1,760 -3,080 pounds
  • Habitats
    Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, Deserts and Xeric Shrublands

European hunters are responsible for the early decline of black rhino populations. It was not uncommon for five or six rhinos to be killed in a day for food or simply for amusement. European settlers that arrived in Africa in the early 20th century to colonize and establish farms and plantations continued this senseless slaughter. Most people regarded rhinos as vermin and exterminated them at all costs.

“DOOMED.” That was the front page headline of the UK newspaper, the Daily Mirror, in 1961, accompanied by a full-page photo of two African rhinos. The article said that rhinos were “doomed to disappear from the face of the earth due to man’s folly, greed, neglect” and encouraged readers to support a new conservation organization: WWF. We’ve been fighting to protect African rhinos ever since. Recent success in black rhino conservation is heartening, but a lot of work remains to bring the population up to even a fraction of what it once was – and ensure that it stays there.

South African rhino poaching numbers show need for urgent action

In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa.This figure represents a loss in rhinos of approximately 6% in South Africa, which is close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.

black rhino and calf

Why They Matter

  • Rhinos are one of the oldest groups of mammals, virtually living fossils. They play an important role in their habitats and in countries like Namibia, rhinos are an important source of income from ecotourism. The protection of black rhinos creates large blocks of land for conservation purposes. This benefits many other species, including elephants.


  • Population 5,000 – 5,400
  • Extinction Risk Critically Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Black Rhino

Habitat Loss

Habitat changes have contributed to population declines, but this is a secondary threat compared to poaching. In southern Zimbabwe, privately owned rhino conservancies have been invaded by landless people. This reduces the amount of safe habitat for two large black rhino populations and increases the risk of poaching and snaring.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

Black rhinos have two horns, and occasionally a third small posterior horn. The front horn is longer than the rear which makes them lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horn. Between 1970 and 1992, 96 percent of Africa's remaining black rhinos were killed. A wave of poaching for rhino horn rippled through Kenya and Tanzania, continued south through Zambia's Luangwa Valley as far as the Zambezi River, and spread into Zimbabwe. Political instability and wars have greatly hampered rhino conservation work in Africa, notably in Angola, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan. This situation has exacerbated threats such as trade in rhino horn, and increased poaching due to poverty.

Today, black rhinos remain Critically Endangered because of rising demand for rhino horn, which has driven poaching to record levels. A recent increase in poaching in South Africa threatens to erase our conservation success. The increase is driven by a growing demand from some Asian consumers, particularly in Vietnam, for folk remedies containing rhino horn. AIn 2014, a total of 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa – a 21 percent increase from the previous year.

“Poaching is a scourge that could wipe out decades of conservation gains made for black rhinos.”

Matthew Lewis African Species Expert

What WWF Is Doing

Black Rhino

Tracking black rhinos in Namibia.

WWF launched an international effort to save wildlife in 1961, rescuing black rhinos—among many other species—from the brink of extinction. Conservation efforts have helped the total number of black rhinos grow from 2,410 in 1995 to 4,880 in 2010. We work to stop poaching, increase rhino populations, improve law enforcement and tackle illegal rhino trade.

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.

Monitoring and Protection

Black Rhino

Etosha National Park, Namibia.

To monitor and protect black rhinos WWF focuses on better-integrated intelligence gathering networks on rhino poaching and trade, more antipoaching patrols and better equipped conservation law enforcement officers. Namibia has one of the largest black rhino populations in the world, with a majority found in Etosha National Park. Although their numbers are increasing, the black rhino is still under threat, particularly as Asian demand for rhino horn skyrockets. WWF works with Namibia’s wildlife services in Etosha to protect the country’s endangered black rhino population. This is being done through effective security monitoring, better biological management and wildlife-based tourism, with proceeds going directly back into conservation efforts.

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.

Effective Public-Private Partnerships

The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) was established in 2003 and is a partnership between WWF, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism. This model for public-private partnership shares the responsibility of increasing the population of black rhinos in KwaZulu Natal and allows every partner to benefit. Since the project began in 2003, seven new black rhino populations have been created in South Africa on more than 37,000 acres of land. Nearly 120 black rhino have been translocated and more than 30 calves have been born on project sites.


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