Rhinos are a group of large, herbivorous mammals that are native to Africa and Asia. They feed on a variety of vegetation including grasses, fruits, and leaves. They are solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and their offspring. Rhinos have poor eyesight but have an excellent sense of smell and hearing.
There are five species of rhinos: the white rhino, black rhino, Indian rhino, Javan rhino, and Sumatran rhino. Each species has its own distinct characteristics and habitat preferences.
The white rhino is the largest of all rhino species and can weigh up to 2,300 kg (5,070 pounds). It is found primarily in grasslands and savannas in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. The black rhino is smaller and more aggressive than the white rhino and lives in a variety of habitats ranging from savannas, deserts, to mountainous regions in Africa.
The Indian rhino or the greater one-horned rhino inhabits India and Nepal. This mighty animal is the second largest rhino species after the white rhino. This rhino can be easily recognized. It has only a single horn and a thick skin that provides protection from predators.
The Javan rhino is the most critically endangered of all rhino species, with only around 76 individuals remaining in the wild. Found in Indonesia and Vietnam, he is the smallest of all rhino species. Lastly, the Sumatran rhino roams the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo.
Why do we must ask how many rhinos are left in 2023 when there are five species spread across two continents? The sad truth is that rhinos are a critically endangered with all five species facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The primary threats to rhinos are poaching for their horns, as well as habitat loss. Rhino horns are highly valued in traditional medicine and as a status symbol. Conservation efforts are underway around the world to protect and save these gentle giants, but more has to be done if we are to revert their doom.
How many rhinos are left in 2023?
The estimated total population of rhinos in the world is less than 27,000 individual animals.
The estimate is published in the annual report by the International Rhino Foundation and considers all the five species.
The total population count constantly changes due to a variety of negative environmental factors and/or positive influence of conservation efforts. Rhinos are hard to track because they are elusive animals. Therefore, their numbers fluctuate as we write this article .
White rhino: White rhinos are currently considered to be a near-threatened species, with an estimated population of around 15,942 individuals. The majority of white rhinos are found in South Africa, with smaller populations in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Despite having a seemingly large population, their numbers are decreasing. In the last four years, their numbers decreased by 12 percent, mainly due to poaching.
A subspecies of the white rhino, the Northern white rhino, is considered to be extinct in the wild, with only two individuals remaining in captivity.
Black rhino: Black rhinos are a critically endangered species. An estimated population stands around 6,195 individuals. The majority of black rhinos are found in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, their numbers are growing. Their population has been gradually recovering from being nearly wiped out at the end of the last century.
The Greater One-horned rhino or Indian rhino: Indian rhinos carry a status of a vulnerable species, with an estimated population of more than 4,000 individuals. The majority of Indian rhinos are found in India, with a smaller population in Nepal. Their numbers are on the rise.
Javan rhino: Javan rhinos are sadly the most critically endangered of all rhino species. Their estimated population in 2023 is around 76 individuals. Javan rhinos are found in Indonesia and Vietnam. Their numbers are extremely low but despite that it seems that they are stabilized at the moment.
Sumatran rhino: Sumatran rhinos belong to a critically endangered species. Similarly like their Javan relatives, they stand at less than 80 individuals. Sumatran rhinos are found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Unfortunately, their numbers have dropped by 13 percent.
Which country has the largest rhino population?
South Africa has the largest rhino population, with an estimated 15,000+ white and black rhinos as of 2022 . South African rhinos account for approximately half of the total populations in Africa. This is largely due to the country’s strong anti-poaching efforts and conservation programs.
Additionally, the country has a number of private reserves and game farms that have been successful in breeding rhinos in captivity. These initiatives have helped to stabilize the populations and raise rhino numbers.
Some of the anti-poaching programs and measures to protect rhinos are these examples.
- Increasing the number of rangers and patrols in rhino habitats: This helps to deter poachers and detect illegal activities.
- Using surveillance technology: South Africa has deployed drones, thermal imaging cameras, and other high-tech equipment to monitor and protect rhinos.
- Involving local communities: Some anti-poaching programs in South Africa involve training and hiring local people as rangers. This step helps to establish support for conservation efforts and provides economic benefits directly to the community.
- Legalizing and regulating the trade of rhino horn: South Africa has legalized the domestic trade of rhino horn. This counter measure has reduced the black market price of the horn and thus decreased the motivation for poaching in the wild.
- International Cooperation: South Africa has been working closely with other African countries and international organizations to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
These efforts have helped to reduce the number of rhinos poached in South Africa in recent years and have contributed to the overall growth of the population. Additionally, the covid lockdown measures also gave some extra time of safety to rhinos from being poached.
Is South Africa the most successful country with rhino conservation efforts?
South Africa has certainly been one of the most successful countries in protecting its rhinos. The country has a long history of conservation efforts and has implemented a number of effective measures to address the problem.
However, the good news is that rhino populations in other countries are also increasing. For example, rhinos in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and India are prospering due to the local conservation programs.
Additionally, the success of rhino conservation in South Africa is not without challenges. Poaching is still a major threat to rhinos in the country. The poaching incidents statistically happen the most in this country, but that’s also because it is a home to the largest numbers of these great mammals. But there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure their long-term survival and species stabilization.
Further reading: The Devastating Consequences of Wildlife Poaching
Are some rhino species extinct?
Yes, some rhino species are already extinct, even though there are five extant species of rhinos that we can still see in nature today.
In historical times, there were more rhino species which are now extinct. For example, the woolly rhinoceros, which roamed across Europe and Asia during the Ice Age. This interesting rhino covered with hair went extinct around 14,000 years ago . And the broad-faced rhinoceros from Asia went extinct around 100,000 years ago.
Thousands years ago may seem like too long time to raise any concern at the moment. But three (!) of the five rhino species we can still meet in person today are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This tells us that their population is extremely low and in danger of extinction in the near future.
The Javan rhinoceros is “Critically Endangered Species” with a stable population at the moment. The Sumatran rhino also bears the status of a “Critically Endangered” animal with numbers further decreasing. According to scientists, it is difficult to track the Sumatran rhinos because they have moved to remote areas in efforts of avoiding human encroachment.
The story of Sudan
You may be familiar with the story of Sudan, the Northern White Rhino, also known as the Sudanese White Rhino, who died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19, 2018. He was the last male of its subspecies. The death of Sudan marked the end of the Northern White Rhino subspecies, as the only two remaining animals are females and are unable to breed naturally.
Sudan was captured in the wild in Sudan in the 1970s and was moved to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic in 1975. He was transferred to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009 as part of an effort to save the subspecies from extinction. Despite the efforts of conservationists, Sudan and the other northern white rhino females were unable to reproduce.
Why are rhinos endangered?
The main reasons for the endangerment of rhinos are:
Poaching: The illegal trade of rhino horn is the main threat to rhinos. Rhino horn is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine and in some cultures for dagger handles and as a status symbol. It is still fetching high prices on the black market.
Habitat Loss: Rhino habitats are destroyed and fragmented due to urban sprawl into wild areas, modern agriculture, and infrastructure development. Habitat loss makes it harder for rhinos to find food, water and safe shelter. It increases their vulnerability to poaching as well, since they are easier to track.
Climate Change: Climate change affects the distribution and quality of food and water sources for rhinos, making it harder for them to survive.
Political instability: In some countries, political instability and civil unrest have unfortunately made it difficult to protect rhinos and other wildlife.
Lack of funding and resources: Conservation efforts are often underfunded, making it difficult for those involved to do the work effectively and apply measures that are really needed to make a change. Additionally, lack of funding also goes hand in hand with lack of motivation when local residents cannot sustain their livelihoods from trying to protect resources.
Small populations: Small populations of rhinos are more susceptible to genetic problems and diseases. The increased risk further threatens the survival of the species.
These threats are interrelated and need to be addressed simultaneously in order to safeguard the survival of rhinos. Conservation organizations, governments and other stakeholders need to work together to combat poaching, protect habitats, and promote sustainable development.
Further reading: Why Are Rhinos Endangered?
Why are rhinos still poached?
Rhinos are still poached because of the high demand for their horn. Rhino horn is valued in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed to have medicinal properties and is used to treat a variety of ailments, from cancer to hangovers. In some cultures is rhino horn used as a symbol of wealth and status.
The black market for rhino horn is still lucrative, with prices for the horn reaching close to $27,000 per kilogram . This high price makes it a tempting target for poachers, who are often motivated by poverty and lack of economic opportunities.
Another reason for the persistence of poaching is the lack of law enforcement and corruption, at least in some countries. Poachers often bribe park rangers or other officials to turn a blind eye to their activities. Furthermore, the illegal trade of rhino horn is often organized by well-funded and sophisticated criminal networks, making it challenging to disrupt the trade.
Due to their preference, the rhino populations are small. The remaining animals are spread thin across the globe and more vulnerable to attacks. It is challenging to protect each animal when they are scattered.
Why are rhino horns so valuable?
Rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) because it is believed to have medicinal properties that can treat a variety of ailments, including fever, rheumatism, gout, and other conditions. Rhino horn is also believed to have detoxifying properties and to be an aphrodisiac.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support these beliefs. Rhino horn is made mostly of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up human hair and nails. Keratin is not effective in treating any medical condition.
The use of rhino horn in TCM has been condemned by many TCM practitioners and organizations, as unsustainable practice that is putting the species in danger.
The Chinese government has been taking steps to discourage the use of rhino horn in TCM by raising awareness, and by removing rhino horn and tiger bone from the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. It is the official compendium of drugs recognized by the Chinese government. But trying to change cultural and traditional beliefs is a long-term process which requires a comprehensive and sustained effort.
Do rhino populations have chance to recover?
Rhino populations have a chance to recover. However, the full recovery requires significant effort and resources to not only protect these gentle giants from poaching and habitat loss, but to also support breeding and conservation programs. It is not impossible, though.
Conservation programs have had some success in growing the rhino numbers in recent years. For example, the population of white rhinos in South Africa has grown from fewer than 100 individuals in the early 1900s to more than 12,968 today. Similarly, the population of Great One-horned rhinos in India has grown from fewer than 200 individuals in the early 1900s to 3,262 today .
One of the major challenges facing rhino conservation is the illegal trade in rhino horn. Efforts to reduce demand and disrupt the illegal trade of rhino horn must continue to be a priority.
Another important aspect of conservation efforts is to protect and manage rhino habitats. This needs slowing down habitat loss and fragmentation and restoring degraded lands. This can be done by working with local communities to promote sustainable development, and by supporting conservation programs such as rhino translocation and reintroduction.
Additionally, breeding and genetic management programs are also important to improve the genetic diversity and the overall health of the rhino populations.