The rhinoceros is one of the most vulnerable species on Earth as their populations continue to dramatically decrease. They have been threatened by rampant poaching, habitat loss, and other factors such as inbreeding and invasive species. A 2019 report from the International Rhino Foundation showed that while there has been an increase of rhino populations in the last decade - 21,000 to 27,000 globally - it is important to note that in the past two years the number of rhinos worldwide has dropped from 29,000 to just over 27,000.
Of all species of rhinos -- Black, White, Greater One-Horned (or Indian), Javan and Sumatran -- the most endangered would be the Javan and Sumatran. According to HelpingRhinos.org, a UK and US-based charity working to save the rhino from extinction through strategic partnerships and vital work in the field, there are only 72 Javan rhinos left in the world and less than 100 Sumatran rhinos - which is why they are considered “critically endangered.” Meanwhile, there are only 5,000 black rhinos in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya and 20,000 white rhinos living across Africa.
It should also be noted that the subspecies of western black rhino and northern white rhino are now extinct in the wild. Previous reports show that the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in March 2018, while the remaining two northern white rhinos live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Most of these declines are caused by poaching, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.
Last 2019, poachers killed nearly 900 rhinos in Africa. While this was a decrease from 3.7 rhinos lost per day in 2015, 2018 still saw 2.4 rhinos killed per day or one rhino every 10 hours. The 2019 State of the Rhino revealed that 318 rhinos had been poached in the first six months of 2019 and more than 9,000 rhinos poached across Africa over the last decade. The ongoing poaching crisis, while being addressed by authorities and conservation organizations, is still worsening. If not addressed effectively, this problem might be the cause of the extinction of rhinos across the globe.
Black Rhinos in Numbers
Black rhinos are under constant threat from poachers but it’s not always been like this. Back in the 1970s, black rhino populations numbered more than 65,000. Due to horrendous losses, the numbers declined by less than 2,300 by 1993. Between 1960 and 1995, black rhino numbers dropped by a sobering 98%. Since then, the species has found it extremely difficult to come back from the brink of extinction.
The World Wide Fund for Nature reported that poachers killed more than 1,000 black rhinos in South Africa alone in 2017. African officials stated that poaching rates across the continent remain “unsustainably high,” threatening to undo decades of conservation efforts. Black-market trafficking also continues to plague the species and threaten its recovery. Their horns are of utmost importance in the market because they are being used for medicinal purposes in China, Taiwan, and Singapore and as an ornate dagger handle in African countries, where it's considered a symbol of status.
While relocation attempts have been done to further protect the black rhinos, not all efforts have been successful. In 2018, Kenyan wildlife officials moved the 14 black rhinos from Nairobi to Tsavo East National Park to protect them from poachers and regrow their population. According to Newsweek, an online site that provides in-depth analysis, news and opinion about international issues, technology, business, culture, and politics, authorities need to relocate the black rhinos because they were beginning to outgrow their habitat in Nairobi, which could cause a greater spread of disease and lower breeding rates. However, only half of those rhinos have survived.
While it’s clear how the rhinos died, the WWF acknowledged the fact that the translocation of the endangered species poses an extreme risk to them, particularly of the rhino's size, since the 3,000-pound mammal must be tranquilized to make the cross-country journey in the back of a truck. A 2015 study had even criticized the conservation effort for relocating animals due to human land-use conflicts because it can cause them greater harm by putting them in the "wrong habitat" or failing to consider the ecological impact of their arrival.
"Translocation as a regulatory tool may be ill-suited for biologically mitigating environmental damage caused by development," lead author Jennifer Germano wrote.
Black Rhinos Are Bouncing Back
For some good news: black rhinos are very much on the right track to bounce back, recent reports showed. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, this progress is mainly due to many painstaking attempts to save the species. This includes increasing the species’ range and ensuring viable breeding populations, moving some individuals from established groups to new locations, and protecting them through stronger law enforcement efforts.
A recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed that the total number of black rhinos increased from 4,845 in 2012 to 5,630 in 2018 - an annual rise of 2.5%. "While Africa's rhinos are by no means safe from extinction, the continued slow recovery of black rhino populations is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries the species occurs in, and a powerful reminder to the global community that conservation works,” Dr. Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of IUCN, said.
The findings of the report also showed that poaching levels have declined in the past few years. In 2019, it was estimated that poaching has declined further due to the strong measures governments are taking against the organized crime gangs behind poaching. “With the involvement of transnational organized crime in poaching, rhino crimes are not just wildlife crimes. If the encouraging declines in poaching can continue, this should positively impact rhino numbers. Continued expenditure and efforts will be necessary to maintain this trend,” Richard Emslie, a coordinator for African rhinos at IUCN, said.
However, this good news should not put us in complacency. Black rhinos are still struggling to bounce back. Experts have also expressed their concern about the impacts of the coronavirus crisis in the conservation efforts. Emslie stated that this pandemic could have “negative impacts on private commercial wildlife operations and state national parks and game reserves that conserve rhino.” “Those in the field paying for all the conservation work on the ground may need more financial support so that they can maintain current efforts despite the virus,” she added.
Nonetheless, this news gives us hope that there’s a huge possibility that endangered species could survive.