Cautious Optimism As Critically Endangered African Rhinos Makes A Slow Recovery


Conservationists credit the recovery to protective measures and anti-poaching campaigns. Dave Hamman

Conservationists are cautiously hopeful as the critically endangered African black rhino population is slowly increasing, according to new data.

Black rhinos are found in the shrublands of southern Africa and play a vital role in their habitats, as well as provide a source of income through ecotourism. Between 2012 and 2018, the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) has increased by around 2.5 percent, from just over 4,800 individuals in the wild to more than 5,600 animals, according to an update provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List of Endangered Species. Experts say that the increase is due to law enforcement strategies and successful population management.


Last month, the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries reported a decline in rhino poaching in South Africa credited to its anti-poaching programs targeted at wildlife trafficking. In the nation, the number of rhinos lost due to poaching declined from 769 in 2018 to 594 the following year. Poaching is lessening across the continent; a peak in 2015 saw an average of 3.7 rhinos poached each day. In 2018, that number decreased to about 2.4 African rhinos, or one every 10 hours.

"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,” said Dr Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of IUCN, in a statement. Aguilar adds that current anti-poaching measures and population management policies are critical to ensure the continued increase of wild black rhinos.

Rhinos are largely threatened by human activities such as poaching and civil unrest, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In particular, black rhinos have two horns, which makes them “lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horns”. There are three subspecies of black rhinos. The Southwest black rhino was previously assessed as vulnerable but over the last three generations has grown in population to be now be considered near threatened. The other two, Southeastern and Eastern, both remain critically endangered.

“As noted by the Department, law enforcement efforts alone cannot address the complex social and economic drivers behind the long-term threats to our rhinos. What is required is a commitment to a holistic approach which considers the attitudes, opportunities, and safety of people living around protected areas,” said Dr Jo Shaw, senior manager of the Wildlife Program, WWF-South Africa, in a February press statement. “The role of corruption, inevitably associated with organized crime syndicates, must also be addressed.”


There remains a slow path to recovery that is largely dependent on continued conservation efforts, concludes the IUCN.

A southwestern Black Rhino is one of three subspecies of African black rhino. © Dave Hamman Photography

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