01 July 2022
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Kenya’s black rhinos continue to rebound
- 938 eastern black rhinos were recorded in Kenya in December 2021, 85 more than in 2020
- The increase in the Kenyan black rhino population is attributed to effective conservation measures and robust monitoring
The news that the number of critically endangered black rhinos has significantly increased in Kenya is encouraging, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Yet the wildlife charity is warning against complacency, as the species still faces several serious threats.
Figures released by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) show that 938 eastern black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli) were recorded as of December 2021, up from 853 the previous year. This represents a population increase of almost 10% and far surpasses the goal of achieving 830 black rhinos by December 2021, which was set in the national Black Rhino Action Plan in 2017.
The increase of 9.9% is particularly significant, considering the population only grew at an average rate of 2.7% per year in the last decade against the national target rate of 5% per annum largely due to the poaching pressure experienced between 2008-2014. The average population growth between 2017 and 2021 now stands at 5.9% per year.
The significant increase is being attributed to effective conservation measures such as improved anti-poaching capacity, strong partnerships and robust monitoring of rhino populations.
Despite this welcome news, the threat from poaching driven by international demand for rhino horn has not gone away. During 2021, there were six confirmed cases of rhino poaching in Kenya (one black rhino and five white rhinos). This is a disappointing increase on Kenya’s zero reported rhino poaching incidents in 2020, however it remains lower than poaching levels over the previous decade. Since the re-emergence of poaching in the country in 2008, 244 rhinos have been illegally killed.
Rhinos also face other threats including habitat loss and climate change. A challenge in Kenya is the limited secure and suitable habitat needed to expand rhino range to reduce pressure on sanctuaries with high rhino densities. Several rhino sanctuaries are currently beyond optimal carrying capacity which can result in deaths from fighting and slow growth rates.
Since the early 1960s, WWF has supported black rhino conservation in the country. WWF is currently supporting the development of Kenya’s Black Rhino Action Plan for 2022-26, which will guide black rhino conservation efforts over the coming years.
Thanks to the support of the players of People’s Postcode Lottery and others, WWF assists with efforts to monitor rhino populations including rhino surveys, equipment and infrastructure such as watchtowers in key rhino ranges. WWF also supports training, such as scene of crime and rhino monitoring courses, and efforts to improve ranger welfare including the upgrade of living standards and supply of rations.
Work has continued to protect rhinos despite the challenges of Covid-19 and an ongoing severe drought.
Yussuf Adan, Head of Biodiversity, Research and Innovation at WWF-Kenya said:
“In 2021, black rhinos in Kenya recorded an unprecedented increase with the population doubling in size for the first time in 20 years to reach 938 individuals. Partnership between the public, private sector and communities was instrumental in delivering this positive outcome. While this is welcome news, the threat to rhinos continues today. WWF will remain at the forefront working with government agencies and partners to safeguard this critically endangered species for present and future generations."
Katherine Elliott, Senior Programme Adviser - Africa, at WWF-UK, said:
“It is heartening that, thanks to conservation efforts over many years, eastern black rhino numbers are continuing to rise in Kenya. However, the future of the species is still not assured and they remain critically endangered across Africa, and we must keep up efforts to protect these magnificent animals and the habitats in which they live.
“Rhinos play a crucial role in their environment, as their grazing and browsing helps to maintain a healthy balance of shrub and grass cover benefitting other wildlife. Healthy wildlife populations attract tourists which help provide local communities with employment and a source of income. By helping to protect the rhino, we can safeguard its environment for the benefit of both people and wildlife for generations to come.”
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:
"We’re delighted that players’ support is bringing this important project to life. The increasing numbers in eastern black rhino conservation in Kenya show that WWF’s efforts are invaluable but this work must continue to preserve the most vulnerable species.‘’