Posted on 08 March 2006
Just 150 years ago, Africa's savannas teemed with rhinos and other wildlife. However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline.
Just 150 years ago, Africa's savannas teemed with rhinos and other wildlife. However, relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline. The southern white rhino particularly suffered from this colonization, and in the late 19th century was actually thought to be extinct.
Poaching escalated during the 1970s and 1980s as demand grew for rhino horn - a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines and a valued accessory in the Middle East. As a result, black rhino numbers declined by a staggering 96% between 1970 and 1992, and the northern white rhino population decreased from around 2,000 in 1960 to just 15 or so in 1984.
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.
Rhinos are 'flagship' species for their habitats - that is, charismatic representatives of the biodiversity within the complex ecosystems they inhabit. Because these large animals need a lot of space to survive, their conservation will help maintain biological diversity and ecological integrity over extensive areas and so help many other species.
WWF has been working to conserve rhinos for over 40 years. The current African Rhino Programme, launched in 1997, provides technical and financial support to 12 rhino conservation projects across Africa and operates in partnerships with key African rhino range states.