Rhino Strongholds and The Black Rhino Populations of East Africa

Wednesday 22 September 2021

The Black Rhino

Like its cousin the white rhino, the black rhino once roamed most of sub-Saharan Africa, but today they are critically endangered with 95% of the population lost in the last 70 years.

Black rhino are found throughout eastern and southern Africa, including Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Populations of black rhino have been decimated over recent years with an estimated population of around 5,630 in the wild today. In South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park just 268 black rhino remain. 

There are three sub-species: the Eastern black rhino, the Southern Central black rhino and the Southwestern black rhino. A fourth sub species, the Western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011.  

Smaller than the white rhino, the black rhino is a browser, living mainly in thick bush or wherever there is a good supply of shrubs and plants to eat. Their hooked lip helps them to pull and hold leaves and branches. Very useful in the African bush. They have two horns, the foremost more prominent than the other, and they are shyer and more secretive than their white rhino counterpart.  



Alongside poaching, the black rhino is also threatened by habitat loss. Rhino need a large area in which to roam and find food and as more and more land is cleared for agricultural use, the available space for rhino to thrive in is shrinking.  Rhino habitats are becoming fragmented with human settlements sandwiched between wild areas, with no ‘safe’ corridors for rhino and other wildlife to travel through. In 2012, a United Nations report stated that half of the forecasted human population increase expected by 2100 would take place in Africa. If action is not taken now, the habitats of rhino and other wildlife could decrease beyond recovery levels in a very short space of time.  


Which is where Rhino Strongholds come in. Building on a decade of active rhino conservation across Africa, Helping Rhinos is working closely with its partners on the ground to reverse this trend and ensure a safe and productive future for all rhino by creating Rhino Strongholds.


Rhino Strongholds are areas that provide the best possible security to reduce the risk of poaching and are large enough 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. The goal is to expand wild spaces by working with local communities to restore degraded land and create wildlife corridors. These wild spaces will have a rich biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem that benefits a wide variety of both flora and fauna species. The areas will have scope to increase in size through the restoration of degraded habitat and the dropping of fences between already established wildlife areas.


Our East African partner, Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, is home to the largest population of eastern black rhino in Africa. It has grown its black rhino population considerably from just 20 individuals in 1992, to 143 today. This 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 individuals a habitat can successfully sustain in terms of both land capacity (food and water) and genetically diverse breeding. Once this carrying capacity is breached, it becomes more difficult to grow the population successfully. It is important to ensure that populations are managed at densities below ecological carrying capacity. Ol Pejeta reached its black rhino carrying capacity of 120 animals in 2018, making it imperative that they now look for ways to increase this carrying capacity in order to carry on with their success so far.

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, as well as creating a safe migratory corridor for more than 7,000 elephants and will provide protection to other endangered species.  

The first phase of the programme is to secure the neighbouring Mutara Conservation Area (MCA) and Eland Downs, with the goal of increasing black rhino habitat by 15,000 hectares. Securing, rehabilitating, and protecting these lands will provide additional land to support rhino population growth and enhanced biodiversity.

This is an ambitious project which, if successful, could really make a difference to black rhino population growth and to that of many other endangered wildlife species. The challenge lies in restoring and maintaining these natural habitats whilst simultaneously ensuring protection processes are in place and providing a sustainable improved livelihood for the communities which surround these wild areas. But it’s a challenge worth fighting for.  




can help pay for

Essential food and medication for a rhino orphan



can help pay for

Community programmes that improve livelihoods



can help pay for

 Training of anti-poaching teams and tracking dogs


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