African rhinos

While the two African rhino species – black rhino and white rhino – are increasing in number, both species remain threatened by poaching, and some populations are at serious risk of extinction.
World Rhino Day, 22 September

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Key Facts

  • Species

    White rhino (Ceratotherium simum), black rhino (Diceros bicornis)

  • Habitat

    Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands; deserts and xeric shrublands

  • Status

    Near Threatened to Probably Extinct

  • Population

    Around 24,838 as of December 2010

The African rhino is under serious threat from international poaching syndicates who have, since 2007, intensified poaching of rhino for their horns driven by growing market demands in Asia.

Dr. Joseph Okori, Head of the WWF African Rhino Programme

Once common on the African plains

Just 150 years ago, Africa’s savannahs teemed with over a million black and white rhinos.

However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline. Poaching escalated during the 1970s and 1980s as demand grew for rhino horn, a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines and valued for dagger handles in the Middle East.

Thanks to vigorous conservation and anti-poaching efforts, some African rhino populations are now stable or increasing. However, poaching still occurs, and some populations remain very small and threatened. Very few African rhinos now survive outside of protected areas and sanctuaries.

Black rhino

Also called the hook-lipped rhino due to their prehensile upper lip, black rhinos were once found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the Congo Basin. 

They are now limited to a patchy distribution from Cameroon in the west to Kenya in the east, and south to South Africa.

Conservation efforts have seen the total number of individuals grow from 2,599 in 1997 to 4,848 in 2010.

However, one subspecies, the West African black rhino, is probably extinct, and the other three remain under threat from poaching. 
Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) / ©: WWF-Canon / Helmut Diller
Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
© WWF-Canon / Helmut Diller

White rhino

Also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, white rhinos have a squared (not pointed) upper lip and almost no hair. 

The two white rhino subspecies are faring very differently.

Thought to number around 2,360 in 1960, the Critically Endangered northern white rhino now only survives in Garamba National Park, DRC, where only 4 individuals reportedly remained in mid-2006.

In contrast, the southern white rhino is one of conservation’s greatest success stories. Thought to be extinct in the late 19th century, in 1895 a small population of less than 100 was discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. After more than a century of protection and management, the subspecies is now classified as Near Threatened and numbers about 20,000 animals in protected areas and private game reserves.
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) / ©: WWF-Canon / Helmut Diller
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
© WWF-Canon / Helmut Diller

Infographic

  •  The WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard report selects 23 range, transit and consumer countries from Asia and Africa facing the highest levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.

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