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  • 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. At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. But today very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves due to persistent poaching and habitat loss over many decades. 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 western black rhino and northern white rhinos have recently gone extinct in the wild. The only three remaining northern white rhino are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century.

Rhinos around the world

2019 has been a year of both wins and losses for rhinos. Though still facing threats like poaching and habitat loss, the global rhino population has increased by 30 percent over the past decade.

An Asian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) drinks by the waters edge at sunset. Kaziranga National Park, India.

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 tourism, which creates job opportunities and provides tangible benefits to local communities living alongside rhinos. Rhinos are one of the "Big Five" animals popular on African safaris and they are also a popular tourism draw in places like the Eastern Himalayas.


Rhino horn webres

Habitat Loss

As economic development, logging, and agriculture degrade and destroy wildlife habitats, rhino populations are declining. Those remaining rhinos live in fragmented, isolated areas and are prone to inbreeding, as healthy genetic mixing is more difficult among smaller groups. Disease can also spread rapidly through these highly-concentrated populations.

The increase in human populations also puts more pressure on rhino habitats as well, shrinking the living space for rhinos and increasing the likelihood of contact with humans—often with fatal results.


Poaching, driven by consumer demand for rhino horn primarily in Asia, poses the biggest threat to rhinos. Most of these horns find their way into the illegal market in Vietnam, where criminal networks grind up the horns for use in traditional medicines or sell them as a high-value gift item. China is an important consumer market as well, where rhino horn enters art and antique markets and is sometimes acquired as an investment purchase.

As the growing middle class in both China and Vietnam become more affluent and can afford the high cost of rhino horn, they are driving up the demand on the international black market. Rhino poaching levels hit record highs in 2015, with poachers slaughtering at least 1,300 rhinos in Africa.

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)—a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species under threat—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 series of transit points and smuggling channels to the final destination in Asia. The main markets are now in countries like Vietnam and China where rhino horn has become a party drug, a health supplement, and a hangover cure. In Vietnam, there is also a newly emerged belief that rhino horn cures cancer.

What WWF Is Doing

WWF plays a vital role in the fight to protect rhinos. With more than 50 years of experience, we know that successful rhino conservation requires a comprehensive approach that brings together the world’s leading experts and develops global strategies to save and recover these species. 

WWF secures and protects rhino populations, and establishes new populations through translocations—the process of moving rhinos from parks with significant populations to others that historically held rhinos but currently do not. We help with community-based conservation approaches for people living in and around important rhino habitats.

We work to combat poaching by implementing innovative technology  and building the capacity of rangers on the ground. We also tackle illegal trade of—and demand for—rhino horn through advocacy and strengthening of local and international law enforcement to bring trafficking perpetrators to justice.

WWF collaborates closely with government agencies in the US and globally as well as other international and local NGO partners to broaden support for rhino conservation.


Safely Moving Rhinos

Since 2011, WWF has helped successfully establish 11 new black rhino populations in safer, more spacious locations. In partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, WWF has relocated a total of 178 critically endangered black rhinos through the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP). During translocations, some rhinos are airlifted by helicopter. They are first sedated and then carefully airlifted to awaiting vehicles which take them to their new locations. 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.

Species Recovery

We focus on the conservation of four rhino species:

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

WWF is working with government agencies and partners in these countries to support law enforcement agencies; build support for rhinos in surrounding communities; develop and build on innovative tech solutions; and equip and train rangers to stop poachers. We also support translocation efforts to establish new black rhino populations in these countries to ensure the species is healthy and growing.

Javan Rhino
WWF is supporting Rhino Protection Unites in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, to safeguard the last remaining population of Javan rhinos from poaching. WWF also conducts research, including camera trap monitoring, which continues to reveal critical information about behavioral patterns, distribution, movement, population size, sex ratio, and genetic diversity. WWF and partners are also working to establish a second population of Javan rhinos.

Sumatran Rhino
The Sumatran rhino is possibly the most endangered large mammal on the planet, with fewer than 100 surviving in fragmented sub-populations across Indonesia on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The remaining populations of Sumatran rhinos are small and isolated, limiting reproduction in the wild.

With our Sumatran Rhino Consortium partners, WWF aims to ensure that the remaining Sumatran rhino populations are secured and growing through effective protection and intensive management and captive breeding.

Greater One-Horned Rhino
The recovery of the greater one-horned rhino is among the greatest conservation success stories in Asia. However, the species’ remarkable recovery has been constrained by a lack of adequate habitat. Currently, 85% of all greater one-horned rhinos are concentrated in just two locations in India and Nepal.

To ensure continued recovery of the greater one-horned rhino, WWF is supporting the establishment of new populations by translocating rhinos to protected areas with suitable habitat within the species’ historic range. Translocating rhinos from the two main populations will allow both groups to expand into new territories and will also decrease densities, leading to increased breeding rates. We are setting up systematic monitoring programs to measure the health and status of resident and newly translocated rhinos and supporting effective anti-poaching measures.


  • 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.

  • Wildlife Crime Technology Project

    Over four and a half years, the Wildlife Crime Technology Project (WCTP) provided WWF a platform to innovate and test a number of innovative technologies, many of which have the potential to change the course of the global fight against wildlife crime. 


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