Black Rhino

Facts

  • Status
    Critically Endangered
  • Population
    Almost 6,500
  • Scientific Name
    Diceros bicornis
  • Height
    5.2 feet
  • Weight
    1,760 -3,080 pounds
  • Habitats
    Semi-Desert Savannah, Woodlands, Forests, Wetlands
Population distribution of the Black Rhino

Population distribution of the Black Rhino (Click for larger view)

Among black and white rhinos, black rhinos are the smaller of the two African rhino species. Black and white rhinos can be distinguished by the shape of their lips. Black rhinos have hooked upper lips, whereas white rhinos are characterized by a square lip. Black rhinos are browsers, rather than grazers, meaning they are herbivores who do not feed on low-growing vegetation, and their pointed lip helps them feed on leaves from bushes and trees. They have two horns, which grow continually from the skin at their base throughout the rhino’s life (like human fingernails). The front horn is longer than the rear horn, averaging around 19 inches long.

The population of black rhinos declined dramatically in the 20th century at the hands of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995, black rhino numbers dropped by a sobering 98%, to less than 2,500 individuals. Since then, the species has made a tremendous comeback from the brink of extinction. Thanks to persistent conservation efforts across Africa, black rhino numbers have doubled from their historic low 20 years ago to more than 6,000 today. However, the black rhino is still considered critically endangered, and a lot of work remains to bring their population up to even a fraction of what it once was—and to ensure that it stays there. Wildlife crime—in this case, poaching of rhinos for the illegal international market for their horns—continues to plague the species and threaten its recovery.

Behati Prinsloo Levine on the magic of Namibia’s black rhinos—and what we can do to save them

When I was a kid, marking days off the calendar until school holidays arrived, I knew that each day took me closer to Etosha National Park in Namibia. Unfortunately, the rhinos that live there are targets for armed poachers and international wildlife crime syndicates that kill them for their horns. We must protect them. 

Behati sits on the ground smiling at the camera with rhinos in the far background

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. This is especially true for local communities in the arid northwestern parts of the country, which are home to Africa’s largest free-roaming black rhino population. Since black rhinos need large territories to survive, their protection benefits many other species, including elephants.

Threats

  • Population Almost 6,500
  • Extinction Risk Critically Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      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
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      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 and Population Density

Black rhinos are mostly solitary and territorial. High population density in some sites leads to lower breeding rates and increases the probability of disease transmission or injuries. With an increasing human footprint on traditional rhino habitat, it becomes more difficult to find suitable and well-protected locations within their former range to start new rhino populations through relocations of individuals from overpopulated sites.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

Of all the threats facing black rhinos, poaching is the deadliest. Black rhinos have two horns, which make them lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horn. Due to intense poaching, 96% of the population was wiped out between 1970 and 1990. Political instability and wars have also greatly hampered rhino conservation work over the last decades in places like Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan.

Black rhinos remain critically endangered because of demand for rhino horns on the illegal international market, mainly in Asia, where rhino horn is used for traditional medicine, and increasingly as a status symbol to display success and wealth. Between 2008 and 2021, around 11,000 rhinos were poached in Africa. A recent increase in poaching in South Africa threatens to erase our conservation success, reaching an apex in 2014 when 1,215 rhinos were poached. As a sign of hope, increasingly more experts in traditional Chinese medicine no longer support the use of rhino horn and promote herbal ingredients as a replacement.

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. Thanks to persistent conservation efforts across Africa, the total number of black rhinos grew from 2,410 in 1995 to more than 6,000 today. 

To protect black rhinos from poaching and habitat loss, WWF is taking action in three black rhino range countries: Namibia, Kenya, and South Africa. Together, these nations hold about 87% of the total black rhino population. 

Expanding Black Rhino Range

Over time, habitat loss has led to isolated, high-density rhino populations. These populations have slow growth rates, which can cause numbers to stagnate and eventually decline. They also raise the risk of disease transmission. To ensure a healthy and growing black rhino population, rhinos from high-density areas must be moved to low density areas with suitable habitat. WWF is supporting these efforts and partnering with government agencies and other NGOs to establish new black rhino populations.

Tackling Wildlife Crime

Poaching remains the deadliest and most urgent threat to black rhinos. WWF is working with government agencies, local communities and other partners in Namibia, Kenya, and South Africa to support law enforcement agencies, develop and build on innovative tech solutions, and equip and train rangers to stop poachers.

  • In Namibia, WWF is leading a consortium of national NGOs to help implement the country’s ambitious law enforcement strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. WWF also supports the Namibian government in the implementation of its national black rhino strategy, in part by moving rhinos from parks with significant populations to other areas that historically held rhinos but currently do not—a process known as translocation. WWF is also taking other security measures to protect both black and white rhinos, such as DNA sampling and the use of sniffer dogs.
  • In Kenya, WWF works with rangers to stop poaching in high-risk areas. We help provide the proper training and technology to catch and deter poachers.
  • In South Africa, WWF trains and develops new technologies that enable law enforcement agencies to address wildlife trafficking. TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, has played a vital role in bilateral law enforcement efforts between South Africa and Vietnam. These efforts are supported by written commitments to strengthen border and port monitoring, along with information sharing intended to disrupt the illegal wildlife trade and bring perpetrators to justice.

Protecting and Managing Key Populations

Testing controls

WWF supports aerial population surveys at key sites such as Etosha National Park in Namibia. The surveys are critical for evaluating breeding success, deterring poachers, and monitoring rhino mortality. WWF is also working with partners to develop and implement cutting-edge technologies in range states to closely monitor key populations. When paired with boots-on-the-ground, innovative solutions like electronic identification and tracking tags, radio and satellite collars, night vision cameras, and camera traps provide us with the data we need to make important decisions for black rhino populations going forward. We install new thermal and infrared cameras and software systems that can identify poachers from afar and alert park rangers of their presence.

Community-Based Conservation

Community support and engagement is a cornerstone of WWF’s work, particularly in Namibia. Together with our Namibian partners, we assist communities to set up conservancies and help to remove barriers to the knowledge and capacity required to successfully govern conservancies and manage wildlife resources. These communal lands are now home to Africa’s largest remaining free-roaming black rhino population.

Community engagement also plays a role in South Africa, where we are looking to conserve black rhinos through community governance, training, and identification of alternative livelihood opportunities.

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. In 1996, the new Namibian government granted communities the right to create conservancies -- areas with defined borders and governance and management structures outside of parks -- where communities have the right to manage their natural resources. With WWF’s long-term support, the government has reinforced this conservation philosophy by removing barriers for communities to manage and benefit from the wildlife on their lands through efforts such as community game guards, robust monitoring, community engagement campaigns, partnerships between the communities and private sector tourism, and translocation projects, which relocate species into new habitats so that they have more space to breed. These communal conservancies—working with the government, nonprofit organizations and others—have restored populations of black rhinos and other native wildlife to the world’s richest dry land.

Experts

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