Skip to main content

Today's confirmation that the black rhino is now officially extinct in West Africa is the latest wake-up call for the world. Last week, statistics from South Africa showed that 341 rhinos have been lost to poaching so far in 2011, compared to 333 last year - which itself was a record high.

Africa's grim milestones come on the heels of the other tragic news that rhinos have gone extinct in Vietnam. The carcass of Vietnam's last Javan rhino was found with a gunshot wound and, not surprisingly, without its horn.

As Tom Milliken - rhino expert at wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC - says, the fate of the Javan rhino in Vietnam must surely act as the ultimate wake-up call for the Vietnamese government to turn aggressively on its internal rhino horn market."

Vietnam has been identified as the main destination for illegally sourced rhino horn - as well as being a major market for other endangered species products, including tiger parts. (Vietnam's own tiger population is alarmingly low and could soon follow the country's Javan rhino into extinction.)

Most of the illegal rhino horn is being poached in South Africa - basically because that's where most of the world's remaining rhinos are.

Breaking the illegal rhino horn trade chain
Despite an international ban on its commercial trade (under CITES), rhino horn is still being smuggled illegally from Africa to Asia, often by organised crime rings. Law enforcement efforts have been scaled up in South Africa in recent times, resulting in more arrests and longer prison terms for poachers and traders - we've worked with prosecutors there to help improve conviction rates.

But so far it still hasn't been enough to counteract the rise in demand from Asia, and Vietnam in particular, for rhino horn as an ingredient in medicinal products - even though it has no proven ability to treat cancer and is no longer part of official Chinese traditional medicine.

To break the illegal trade chain completely, governments in all countries involved - whether in the sourcing, transportation or consumption of rhino horn - must all scale up their efforts. In order to save rhinos from extinction, the criminal syndicates involved must be uncovered and shut down for good.

How WWF is helping rhinos
The current rhino poaching epidemic is all the more frustrating for us, because we know the successes of so many other aspects of our rhino conservation work - for example in Kenya we're moving rhino to safer areas, working with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, making sure they have the rights skill and equipment needed to protect their rhinos.

The rhino population there is continuing to grow, where we can keep rhinos safe - just last month we had four black rhino calves born in Nairobi national park, where we support the rhino monitoring and protection team.

We're also involved in translocating endangered rhinos to safer areas, away from poaching hotspots - sometimes moving them by air. See some amazing footage of rhino relocation - by helicopter - in South Africa...

You can find out more about the process of rhino translocation here

Across Africa and Asia, we're also working with partners such as TRAFFIC to stop the trade in endangered wildlife. This includes investigating and understanding trade routes so we can stop products moving across international borders, and reduce demand for the products.

In South Africa recently WWF and TRAFFIC facilitated a meeting between Vietnam and South Africa to improve coordination between the two countries to reduce the trade in rhino horn.

We're also working with the South African prosecution authorities to increase successful convictions through providing expert witnesses, building prosecutors' knowledge of rhino poaching and teaching field staff how to collect information at a crime scene.

You can...
Adopt a rhino
Find out more about our rhino conservation work
See more details about rhino translocation
See how we're tackling illegal wildlife trade

More on rhino population statistics, 2011:

African species
Black rhino: 4,838 (IUCN Red List Classification: 'Critically endangered')
White rhino: approx 20,000 - up from fewer than 100 in 1900 ('Near threatened')
South Africa-alone rhino population: 1,916 black, 18,780 white

Asian species
Greater-one horned: 2,913 ('Vulnerable')
Javan: no more than 50 ('Critically endangered')
Sumatran: fewer than 200 ('Critically endangered')

South Africa poaching numbers (source: SANParks)
Since 2000: 999 rhinos poached
2010: 333 rhinos
2011: 341 rhinos up to October - including at least 16 critically endangered black rhinos. (At least 197 in Kruger National Park.)
Arrests in 2010: 165
Arrests in 2011: 186

"

Make a promise for our planet

Small actions can make a big difference. Find out how

Will you add your promise to the many made already?