Black rhinos were once found throughout sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of the Congo Basin. Even though they are largely solitary animals, they were once so plentiful that it was not unusual to encounter dozens in a single day.
However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw their numbers quickly decline. By the end of the 1960s, they had disappeared or mostly disappeared from a number of countries, with an estimated 70,000 surviving on the continent.
And then they were hit by a poaching epidemic, which started in the early 1970s - effectively eliminating most black rhinos outside conservation areas as well as severely reducing their numbers within national parks and reserves. About 96% of black rhinos were lost to large-scale poaching between 1970 and 1992.
In 1993, only 2,475 black rhinos were recorded. But thanks to successful conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the total number of black rhinos has grown to around 5,000.
The species is currently found in patchy distribution from Kenya down to South Africa. However, almost 98% of the total population is found in just 4 countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
There are three subspecies after the West African black rhino was declared extinct in 2011:
- Southern-central black rhino (D. b. minor): Most numerous subspecies. Found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, southern Tanzania and reintroduced to Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia.
- South-western black rhino (D. b. bicornis): More adapted to arid and semi-arid savannahs. Now live in Namibia and South Africa.
- East African black rhino (D. b. michaeli): Current stronghold is Kenya, with smaller numbers in northern Tanzania.