Hope for Kenya's Rhinos

Friday 10 September 2021


Kenya is home to some of the world's most iconic species. But many of them, including rhino are vulnerable or critically endangered. Between May and August this year, for the first time ever, a full animal count was undertaken in the country’s biggest ever Wildlife Census.

At the beginning of September, Kenya released the results of a three-month Wildlife Census which was undertaken across the country. The inaugural Census was a joint effort between the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife (MoT&W) and the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI).  Individual surveys of Kenya’s most vulnerable species, such as rhino, have been undertaken in the past, but this is the first time the various wildlife agencies have targeted all terrestrial and aquatic animals across the country as a whole. 

The aim of the census was to help Kenya better understand its wildlife populations and the various threats facing it today. Like many African countries, Kenyan’s human population has grown significantly over the last fifty years or so. However, the available land to sustain such growth remains the same. This increase in human population has led to an increase in demand for land for human settlements, agriculture and infrastructure. All of these things threaten biodiversity and by gaining an insight into wildlife abundance and distribution across the country, the various wildlife agencies will be able to make informed conservation strategies. 

The census covered 59% of Kenya’s land mass, surveying the country’s 58 national parks and reserves, private and community conservancies. Over 30 species of mammals, key birds and marine species were counted. The count was a huge undertaking using various methods including aerial (both fixed wing and helicopter) and vehicles on land.

There were some encouraging results, including an increase in the population of some iconic keystone species such as elephants and rhino. Threats to wildlife observed during the survey included habitat loss, land-use changes and exponential growth of the human population. Additionally, the census picked up on incidents of human activities near major wildlife sanctuaries, such as livestock incursions, logging and illegal settlements. You can download the full KWS report here.


Kenya has the third largest population of rhino in Africa after South Africa and Namibia. The two main species present in Kenya are the black rhino and the southern white rhino.  The 2021 survey showed that rhino populations across Kenya have increased since the last rhino census was undertaken in 2017, from 1,258 to 1,739. The biggest jump in growth was in the southern white population, up from 510 in 2017 to 840 in 2021. The black rhino population increased from 745 to 897. 

This increase in population is encouraging especially alongside Kenya’s current success with virtually no rhino poaching incidents recorded in 2020. However, it is likely that this is a knock-on effect of the pandemic. With border closures and no international tourism for most of 2020, it has made movement around national parks and game reserves virtually impossible for those involved with poaching. 

The results of the national Wildlife Census are indeed encouraging but have also highlighted the urgent need to increase the habitats for rhino so that this population growth can continue to be supported for many generations to come. 


Kenya has the largest wild population of the eastern black rhino subspecies in Africa and our partner Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to a large majority of them with around 143 individuals, grown from just 20 in 1992. This success was achieved through regular monitoring of individual rhinos and strong, effective anti-poaching methods leading to no poaching on the conservancy for nearly four years. 

However, there is a limit to the number of rhino a habitat can successfully sustain in terms of both land capacity (food and water) and genetically diverse breeding. The Wildlife Census report clearly indicated that habitat loss was a key threat to wildlife, especially rhino. Through its land expansion programme, Ol Pejeta is playing a key role in creating new habitat for wildlife, and in particular their rhino. Working in collaboration with surrounding conservancies and communities, the programme aims to connect more than 1 million hectares of protected land. This would provide habitat for as many as 1,000 rhinos. 

These ‘rhino strongholds’ are key to providing the best possible security against poaching as well as providing larger spaces to allow the rhino to demonstrate natural behaviours, including migration between territories and genetically diverse breeding, without the need for hands on intervention by humans.

You can find out more about our Rhino Strongholds vision here. Or even better, join us at our event, Global Gala for Rhinos on stage in London and broadcasting online live around the world on Saturday 23rd October where we will be delving further into Ol Pejeta’s range expansion programme. Find out more and book your tickets here.