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Black Rhino

Facts

  • Status
    Critically Endangered
  • Population
    5,000 – 5,400
  • Scientific Name
    Diceros bicornis
  • Height
    5.2 feet
  • Weight
    1,760 -3,080 pounds
  • Habitats
    Semi-Desert Savannah, Woodlands, Forests, Wetlands

Black rhinos are the smaller of the two African rhino species. The most notable difference between white and black rhinos are their hooked upper lip. This distinguishes them from the white rhino, which has a square lip. Black rhinos are browsers rather than grazers, and their pointed lip helps them feed on leaves from bushes and trees. They have two horns, and occasionally a third, small posterior horn.

Populations of black rhino 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. 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 between 5,042 and 5,455 today. However, the black rhino is still considered critically endangered, and a lot of work remains to bring the numbers up to even a fraction of what it once was—and to ensure that it stays there. Wildlife crime—in this case, poaching and black-market trafficking of rhino horn—continues to plague the species and threaten its recovery.

How WWF safely moves black rhinos to help the species thrive

Looking back over years of moving black rhinos to create new populations as part of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project in South Africa, it’s worth noting how capture and release techniques have improved. 

black rhino calf in tall grass

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.

Threats

  • Population 5,000 – 5,400
  • 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 Loss and Fragmentation

Next to poaching, loss of habitat contributes to declines in rhino population. Human activities such as agriculture, settlements, and infrastructure development result in the loss and fragmentation of rhino habitat, which increases the risk of poaching and inbreeding.

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 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, from some Asian consumers, particularly in Vietnam and China, who use them in folk remedies. 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. Poaching numbers are slowly decreasing—1,054 were poached in 2016—but poaching continues unabated with numbers remaining unsustainably high.

Population Density, Disease, and Inbreeding

High population density in some sites leads to lower breeding rates and increases the probability of disease transmission. Smaller, isolated populations can also be prone to genetic impacts from inbreeding.

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 5,000 today.

To protect black rhinos from poaching and habitat loss, WWF is taking action in three African 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 is the deadliest and most urgent threat to black rhinos. WWF is working with government agencies and 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 its effort to update its plan to grow black rhino populations, in part by moving rhinos from parks with significant populations to others that historically held rhinos but currently do not—a process known as translocation. We’re also taking other security measures to protect both black and white rhinos, such as DNA sampling.
  • 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. WWF is also supporting the development of Kenya Wildlife Service’s forensic lab and a DNA database called RhoDIS, which will be used to analyze DNA in criminal investigations to connect a poached animal with horn being sold.
  • In South Africa, WWF trains law enforcement agencies to address wildlife trafficking challenges. 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 wildlife trade bring perpetrators to justice.

Protecting and Managing Key Populations

Testing controls

WWF supports annual 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 Namibia, South Africa, and Kenya to closely monitor key populations. When paired with boots on the ground, innovative solutions like electronic identification and tracking tags, radio collars, drones, 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 camera and software systems that can identify poachers from afar and alert park rangers of their presence.

Engaging Communities

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

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

Experts

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