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The Endangered Rhino: Threats and Conservation

Natalie has a keen interest in conservation and writes about endangered species to raise awareness.

Rhino and calf

Rhino and calf

The Five Species of Rhino

The rhinoceros, or rhino, is native to Africa and Southern Asia. Rhinos are herbivores, so they spend much of their time grazing and looking for plants to eat. They eat a wide variety of vegetation, including fruit, twigs, leaves and grass. There are five species of rhino: white, black, greater one-horned, Sumatran, and Javan. Three of these—Sumatran, Javan, and black rhinos—are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The white rhino is classified as near threatened and the greater one-horned is considered vulnerable in the wild.

White Rhino

These rhinos are the second-largest land mammal, the largest being the elephant. An adult male can weigh up to 3.6 tonnes and measure 1.85 metres in height. They live in Southern Africa, with their main habitat being savannah and woodlands.

At one point, there were only 50 white rhinos left in the wild, but thanks to conservation efforts, they have been brought back from the brink of extinction. There are currently more than 20,000, and their conservation status is classified as near threatened.

There are two subspecies of white rhino, the southern white rhino and the northern white rhino. The northern white is now extinct in the wild, with only two females left in captivity. The last surviving male northern white rhino died in March 2018. It is hoped that the species can be saved using IVF techniques.

Black Rhino

Despite the name, there is actually no difference in colour between the black rhino and the white rhino. Black rhinos are smaller and, rather than grazing on grass, they tend to eat from trees or bushes.

They live in Southern and Eastern Africa and prefer habitats with shrubs and plant life, such as woodlands and wetlands.

It is thought that there were seven or eight species of black rhino. Three are now extinct, and one is near to extinction. The western black rhinoceros was sadly declared extinct in 2011. Overall, the black rhino is considered to be critically endangered.

Greater One-Horned Rhino

These rhinos, which are also known as the Indian rhinoceros, can be identified by their single black horn and skin folds which give them an armour-plated appearance. They eat mainly grasses but will also eat leaves and fruit.

The greater one-horned rhino can be found in Northern India and Southern Nepal. They were once found across the whole northern part of the Indian subcontinent, but by 1975 there were only around 600 in the wild. Conservation efforts increased the numbers to more than 3,500 by 2015.

They are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Greater one-horned rhino

Greater one-horned rhino

Sumatran Rhino

These are the smallest rhinos, and unlike other Asian rhinos, they have two horns. They are closely related to the extinct woolly rhino.

They once lived in several areas, including Eastern India, Bhutan, and Thailand, but now wild populations can only be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The Sumatran rhino is considered to be critically endangered.

Javan Rhino

The Javan rhino, also known as the lesser one-horned rhino, is currently the most threatened of the species. The remaining 60 Javan rhinos live in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. They were declared extinct in Vietnam in 2010, the last one having been killed by a poacher.

Save the Rhino sign in Nepal

Save the Rhino sign in Nepal

Current Threats

One of the main threats to the rhino is poaching, but they are also under threat from habitat loss.

The reason behind rhino poaching is the value of the horn. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, with the horn being ground into powder and consumed. Their horns are also used as handles for ornamental daggers, and in some cases owning a rhino horn is purely for image and social status.

Rangers and anti-poaching teams are in place, but as poachers are often armed, it is a dangerous job. The teams need the right training and equipment in order to do the job effectively.

Habitat loss is also a major concern. There are various reasons for habitat loss, including human settlement, agricultural purposes, and logging.

Conservation Efforts

There are numerous organisations working to protect the rhino through conservation, monitoring and tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Here are some of the measures being used to protect the rhinos.

  • Anti-poaching measures are in place in areas inhabited by rhinos. These include rhino rangers patrolling the area, which is crucial for their protection. As well as looking for poaching activity, the rangers also gather information to provide a picture of the current rhino distribution. Education programmes aimed at reducing the demand for rhino horns are also beneficial for tackling poaching.
  • A rhino DNA database has been set up which can be used in investigations at crime scenes, as well as evidence for the prosecution in court cases. The rhino indexing system has been successfully used to prosecute offenders in poaching cases.
  • Community conservation projects can play a part in rhino protection. These projects are important for engaging the public as the needs of the locals need to be considered. If a community benefits from having rhinos in the area, they are more likely to want to protect them. An example of this is ecotourism, which allows the locals to become directly involved with the project. Locals can become guides or participate in environmental education programmes.
  • Translocation is sometimes necessary in order to protect rhino populations. Normally, animals move to different areas and expand their range. This helps to avoid inbreeding and ensures that the population can find sufficient resources. However, due to a decline in numbers, there is now a greater distance between rhino populations, so the movement of rhinos between different areas needs to be managed.
  • Sanctuaries for rhinos, such as Nguila Rhino Sanctuary in Kenya, have been built to provide a safer home for them.
  • Captive breeding programmes are used as part of the conservation effort. It is vital that there are populations in captivity in order to reinforce and re-establish populations in the wild. Captive rhino populations are also useful for raising public awareness.
Grazing rhino

Grazing rhino

What the Future Holds for the Rhino

With several subspecies already extinct and others critically endangered, the rhino faces a very uncertain future.

However, with increased awareness and new protection measures being put in place, it is still possible for some of the subspecies to recover. The population of the greater one-horned rhino has started to recover thanks to conservation work, and the number of southern white rhinos has been increased substantially.

Although the number of rhinos living in the wild has drastically declined, success stories such as that of the southern white rhino show that, with continuing conservation, there is still hope for the rhino.



African Wildlife Foundation -

Save the Rhino -

Further Reading