Rhino are a critically endangered species. There are less than 30,000 rhino living in the wild today. At the start of the 20th century, there were over 500,000. Human activity has caused this dramatic decline in rhino numbers. Initially numbers dropped due to hunting, but today the main threats to rhino are poaching and habitat loss.
POACHING AND ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING OF RHINO HORN
Poaching and illegal trafficking of rhino horn has increased sharply since 2007 and remains one of the major reasons rhino are still endangered today. Poaching is big business, and well organised criminal gangs are now well-equipped to track and kill rhino. One rhino horn can fetch in excess of an incredible £200,000. Political and economic instability within countries can increase the threat of poaching too.
Rhino horn trade has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1977, yet the black-market demand for rhino horn is high. Driven by Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and China. It is used in traditional Asian medicine, though there is no scientific evidence that horn is beneficial as a remedy. More recently, and particularly among the middle and upper-classes of Vietnam, the purchase of rhino horn signifies someone’s wealth and success. It is used as a status symbol. Read more about rhino poaching here: https://www.helpingrhinos.org/rhino-poaching/
LOSS OF HABITAT
Habitat loss is the other major threat to rhino populations. As more and more land is cleared for agriculture there is less available space for rhino to thrive in. Rhino need a large area in which to feed and roam. If rhino populations end up fragmented, with no safe ‘corridors’ to travel through, chances of successful breeding and recovery will decline further.
WHICH SPECIES OF RHINO IS THE MOST ENDANGERED?
There are five species of rhino surviving today – Black, White, Greater One-Horned (or Indian), Javan and Sumatran and several sub-species within these groups.
There are three species of rhino in Asia, two of which are ‘critically endangered’ the Javan and Sumatran rhino. There are only around 65 Javan rhino left in the world and around 100 Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is one of the rarest large mammals on earth, and was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011. The Greater One-Horned rhino has increased in numbers up to 3,550 from only 200 in 1900. The third Asian species is listed as ‘vulnerable’. Numbers have increased due to successful conservation efforts, though the species is still poached for its horn in India and Nepal.
The remaining two species are found in Africa. The Black rhino is ‘critically endangered’. With only around 5,000 remaining. Numbers of Black rhino dropped by a staggering 96% between 1970 and 1995 but thanks to concerted conservation efforts, their numbers are now rising.
White rhino are classified as ‘near threatened’. There are now around 20,000 living across Africa, yet the increase in poaching levels is once again threatening these populations.
The subspecies Western Black rhino and Northern White rhinos are now extinct in the wild. The only two remaining Northern White rhinos live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The last Northern White male, Sudan, died in March 2018 of age related issues. You can read our heartfelt tribute to him.