Ceratotherium simum (white rhino)
Diceros bicornis (black rhino)
White rhino: near threatened
About the African rhino
There are two species of African rhino – the white and the black. Despite their names, both are the same dark grey-brown colour. It’s thought that the name ‘white rhino’ is a misinterpretation of the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’, referring to its square upper lip. Black rhinos have hooked lips.
Most African rhinos are found in just four countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya – where they mainly roam grassland and open savannah. These armoured giants are vegetarian and need to eat large amounts of food every day.
One subspecies - the southern white rhino - is a significant conservation success story. The population has recovered from fewer than 100 in 1895 to over 20,000 today. But sadly there are no northern white rhinos left in the wild, and only a handful in captivity.
The smaller black rhino has three remaining subspecies. A fourth – the western black rhino – was declared extinct in 2011. About 96% of black rhinos were lost to large-scale poaching between 1970 and 1992, and there are now just 4,800 individuals in the wild today.
Poaching for their horns is still the greatest threat to African rhinos today. In South Africa, rhino poaching has risen to worrying new levels since 2007, after falling to much lower numbers during the previous 20 years.
Find out how you can help save African rhinos
Why rhinos matter
Rhinos have been around for millions of years and play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They’re important grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, which helps shape the African landscape. This benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystem.
Local people also depend on the natural resources within rhino habitat for food, fuel and income. As one of Africa’s ‘big five’, rhinos are a popular sight for tourists. Ecotourism can be an important source of income for local people.
By helping protect the rhino, we’re helping to conserve its habitat for the benefit of both people and wildlife, helping support local communities through ecotourism and making sure natural resources are available for generations to come.
Threats to African rhinos
African rhinos are extremely vulnerable to poaching for the illegal trade in body parts. Powdered horn is used in traditional Asian medicine as a supposed cure for a range of illnesses – from hangovers to fevers and even cancer.
The number of rhinos poached in South Africa alone has increased by 7,700% in the past seven years – from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. This recent surge has been primarily driven by the demand for horn by upper-middle class citizens in Vietnam. As well as its use in medicine, rhino horn is bought and consumed purely as a symbol of wealth.
Poaching gangs use increasingly sophisticated methods to evade authorities – including helicopters and night vision equipment to track rhinos, and veterinary drugs to knock them out. This means conservationists need to match this level of technology to be able to tackle the problem.
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How WWF is helping protect African rhinos
Our goal is to increase rhino numbers in at least five key populations by 5% each year, and establish two new rhino populations by 2020.
We’ll help achieve this through our African rhino programme which gives technical and financial support to 12 rhino conservation projects across Africa. We’re helping to expand protected areas, create new ones, and increase security in these areas to protect rhinos from poachers. We also promote wildlife-based tourism that helps fund conservation efforts and gives local communities an income from living alongside wildlife.
We’re working with TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to investigate, expose and crack down on poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn – and to reduce the demand so that this trade is no longer a significant threat to African rhinos.
Discover how we're tackling the illegal wildlife trade