Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Rhino population has significantly declined due to poaching and habitat destruction
- Only five species of rhinos are still living, with an estimated total of around 26,272 individuals as of December 2021
- The Sumatran rhino is critically endangered with about 30 individuals left
- Poaching is the primary cause of rhino extinction, with rhino horns being highly sought after for traditional medicine and as a status symbol
- Conservation efforts include international trade bans and increasing law enforcement in areas where rhinos are threatened by poaching
Rhinos once populated parts of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia millions of years ago. A true family of rhinos consisting of five living species is left today. These species live in Africa and Asia. The world rhino population is mainly threatened by poaching and habitat destruction.
Rhinos live for about 30-40 years and have a long gestation period of 15-16 months. Female rhinos typically give birth to one calf every 2-5 years. This makes population increase a slow process.
Conservation programs have been implemented to help protect rhino populations. A ban was also placed on the international trade of rhino parts. However, illegal hunting and trading still occur and have had long-lasting impacts on rhinos.
What Are Rhinos?
Rhinos are one of the largest land mammals to roam parts of Africa and Asia. They’re a part of the odd-toed ungulate order Perissodactyla. Other ungulates in this order include horses and tapirs.
Rhinos belong to the family Rhinocerotidae. It’s the only family a part of the Rhinocerotoidea superfamily that hasn’t gone extinct. Other family groups of rhinoceros species before extinction included Paraceratheriidae, Amynodontidae, and Hyracodontidae.
There are only five species of rhinos that are still living as of 2022. These species include:
- White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum)
- Black rhinos (Diceros bicornis)
- Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis)
- Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
- Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)
White and black rhinos are two African rhino species with several subspecies. Some of the subspecies are extinct or critically endangered. Rhino populations have declined significantly since the early 20th century. Poaching and habitat destruction are primarily to blame.
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How Many Rhinos Are Left in the World Today?
Hundreds of thousands of rhinos once roamed Africa and Asia. However, population numbers have declined due to extensive poaching and harvesting of rhino horns.
In 1900, there were approximately 500,000 rhinos in Africa and Asia. This number dropped to about 70,000 individuals by 1970. The estimated total number of rhinos left today in the world as of December 2021 is about 26,272 individuals.
Between 2017 and 2021, there has been a 3.7% decline in rhino populations. Some rhino species populations, such as the black rhino and Indian rhino, are slowly increasing. The increase in population is only about 5% each year. This percentage can fluctuate depending on various circumstances.
Several factors have contributed to the decline of world rhino populations. These factors include climate change, poaching, and habitat degradation or destruction. However, humans are considered the primary predators of rhinos.
Sumatran Rhino – Remaining Population of ~30 individuals
Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, and their population is decreasing. They’re considered one of the most threatened rhino species. They’re often called the two-horned rhino because they have two horns instead of one. They’re the only Asian rhino species to have two horns.
Sumatran rhinos used to live on several islands in Indonesia. Their range extended into other parts of Asia, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Their range is now limited to the Gunung Leuser National Park and Way Kambas National Park in Indonesia. Very few individuals inhabit a small part of central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.
Their habitat consists of lowland and highland tropical forests. Their ideal habitat supports their varied diet of over 100 plant species.
Threats to the Sumatran rhino include poaching, droughts, logging, and wood harvesting. There are about 30 Sumatran rhinos, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Black Rhino – Remaining Population of ~3142 individuals
Black rhinos are an African rhino species that inhabit savannas, shrublands, and deserts. They’re mainly found in southern and eastern Africa. They inhabit five countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
There are four subspecies of black rhinos, including:
- Southern-central black rhinos (Diceros bicornis minor)
- South-western black rhinos (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
- West African black rhinos (Diceros bicornis longipes)
- East African black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli)
The West African black rhino, also known as the western black rhino, was declared extinct in 2011. Other black rhino populations are critically endangered as of January 2020. There are about 3,142 individuals, and it is one of the rhino populations that’s showing signs of increasing.
Black rhinos have two horns and are smaller than white rhinos. Males can weigh up to almost 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg). They’re dark gray in color and have a hooked lip, which differentiates them from white rhinos. Their hooked lips are associated with their eating habits. They’re browsers, which means they eat from tall bushes and trees.
White Rhino – Remaining Population of 10,080 individuals
White rhinos are an African rhino species. There are two white rhino subspecies: the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) and the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). Most of the white rhino population is the southern white rhino subspecies that inhabit South Africa.
Only two northern white rhinos live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. They’re under constant protection at the sanctuary by guards. Northern white rhinos are considered extinct in the wild.
White rhinos are grazers, unlike black rhinos. They have a squared upper lip, which helps them feed on grasses. They’re one of the largest land mammals in Africa. Some individuals can weigh up to almost 8,000 pounds (3,628 kg).
There are about 10,080 white rhinos in total. They’re classified as near threatened as of January 2020.
Javan Rhino – Remaining Population of 76 individuals
Like Sumatran rhinos, Javan rhinos are one of the most threatened rhino species. Only about 76 Javan rhinos inhabit the Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java, Indonesia.
They’re classified as critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List. However, their population is stable and has increased in the last few years.
Besides the northern black rhino, Javan rhinos have the most limited distribution. They inhabited parts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia before their population declined. They went extinct in Vietnam in 2011.
Javan rhinos have a pointed upper lip. This helps with their browsing feeding behavior. Their ideal habitat is forested areas where they can feed on high vegetation.
Greater One-Horned Rhino – Remaining Population of 3,700 individuals
Greater one-horned rhinos inhabit northern India and southern Nepal. They’re also known as Indian rhinos. Most of the population resides in the state of Assam in India. They’re grazers that live in grasslands, woodlands, and inland wetlands. They used to inhabit Bangladesh and Bhutan before they went extinct in these regions.
Indian rhinos aren’t considered endangered, but they’re vulnerable. Their population is increasing, and there are approximately 3,700 individuals. Efforts have been made to reintroduce Indian rhinos to other parts of the original range.
The Indian Rhino Vision 2020 plan involved the translocation of two Indian rhinos to Manas National Park in April 2021. A few individuals were moved to help increase the population in areas where they were reintroduced.
Greater one-horned rhinos are found in four different protected areas in Assam, including:
- Pobitora Wildlife Reserve
- Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park
- Kaziranga National Park
- Manas National Park
Along with white rhinos, Indian rhinos are one of the largest rhino species. Some adults can weigh as much as 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg).
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Are Rhinos Becoming Extinct?
Several rhino species have already been deemed extinct due to habitat loss and poaching. Some are extinct in the wild, but a few individuals are cared for in sanctuaries, such as the northern black rhino.
Indian rhinos and black rhinos are the only two species, as of 2022, that are showing signs of an increase in population. The Javan rhino population is considered stable. However, the total population of 76 individuals is considerably small.
The white rhino population in South Africa is subject to extreme poaching. Sumatran rhinos are at an increased risk of going extinct because there are only 30 mature individuals.
Conservation efforts to protect rhino populations continue to help populations from dying out. However, illegal hunting, trapping, and habitat destruction are still major threats to all rhino species.
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Why Are Rhinos Being Poached?
Poaching is the primary cause of rhino extinction and population decline. Poaching refers to illegally hunting, capturing, transporting, or killing wildlife. Rhino horns are highly sought after and sold on the black market for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The demand for rhino horn and its price increases as the world rhino population continues to fall. Rhino horns have been used for traditional Chinese medicinal purposes. They’re also used as a sign of high status and wealth.
Rhino horns are made of keratin, a fibrous protein found in hair, hooves, horns, claws, and more. Keratin is made up of amino acids.
In Chinese tradition, rhino horns are believed to contain beneficial health properties. They’re used to treat various illnesses, such as fevers, typhoid, and headaches. Yet, little evidence and research suggest that rhino horns have health benefits.
Despite lacking evidence to support these claims, rhino horns have been used as traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Rhino horn is used as medicine by consuming it. The horn is shaved into a powder and put into boiling water for consumption.
Another reason the rhino horn is a popular black market item is its sign of wealth. People who own rhino horns are considered wealthy and successful.
A less common belief is that the rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. This misconstrued belief isn’t a true reason for a rhino horn’s value. The misconception has been adopted by some, including people in Vietnam who also use rhino horns as a sign of wealth.
Does Poaching Still Occur Today?
Poaching is still a problem that occurs today. South Africa is especially vulnerable to poaching and other illegal rhino horn trade activities. Kruger National Park in South Africa suffers the most illegal hunting and trading activity of rhinos. Almost 500 African rhinos were poached in 2021.
Although there is an international trade ban on rhino parts, poaching and illegal trade still continue. It’s considered an organized crime due to the level of criminality in the trade. Rhino horns are highly sought after on the black market. Depending on demand, they’re sold on the black market for values up to $300,000 or more.
It’s difficult for officials to protect rhinos because rhino poaching is a highly organized crime. The lack of resources and money to fund enforcement makes it difficult to protect rhinos.
The lack of economic opportunity in countries where rhinos are present makes protection difficult. Since rhino horns are very profitable, people may turn to selling illegal items on the black market.
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Which Rhinos Have Already Gone Extinct?
There used to be four rhinoceros families. The family Rhinocerotidae is the only one that has living rhino species.
The family Amynodontidae was a rhinoceros family of hornless rhinos which once inhabited Asia and North America. They appeared in the mid-Eocene Epoch around 40 million years ago. They lived until the early Oligocene Epoch, which marked the end of the Paleogene period about 33.9 to 23 million years ago.
The family Hyracodontidae appeared in the Eocene Epoch. They roamed North America, Europe, and Asia for approximately 22.3 million years before going extinct.
Rhinos in the family Rhinocerotidae are relatives of the ancient rhinoceros families. The western black rhino subspecies was declared extinct in 2011. Sightings of western black rhinos were last recorded in Cameroon in 2003.
The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in 2018 at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The sanctuary is home to the last two female northern white rhino subspecies. Scientists hope to use some of the genetic material saved from Sudan to help regrow the population of this subspecies.
Sumatran rhinos are at high risk for extinction, as only 30 individuals are left, and their population is declining.
Rhino Conservation Efforts
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) placed an international trade ban on rhinoceroses in 1977. All species were added in Appendix 1, but the southern white rhino was added to Appendix II in 1994.
The CITES agreement involves 184 parties. It enforces rules on international wildlife trade.
CITES recommended several actions to all parties to maintain and increase the world rhino population. Some of these suggested actions included:
- Initiation of strong penalties to prevent illegal action against rhinos
- Adopt legislation to conduct proper investigations related to rhino poaching
- Increase law enforcement in areas where rhinos are threatened by poaching
- Monitor all permits and certificates authorized for legal trading
- Use all resources and expertise available for rhino conservation efforts to put management plans in place
A CITES Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force was created in 2008 to address illegal trade issues with rhinoceroses. Illegal activity concerning rhinos reached dangerous levels. Some of the activities were believed to be highly organized.
The task force convened to analyze incidents of poaching, illegal trade, and smuggling of rhino horns. It attempted to identify its sources and put a stop to them.
Proposals to loosen restrictions on rhino horn trading were given at the CITES 18th Conference of the Parties by Eswatini. The proposal was rejected by some governments at CITES.
Organizations like the International Rhino Foundation have raised money through grants and field programs to fund conservation projects for rhinos. Some of their conservation efforts include scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and anti-poaching.
Rhino Fun Facts
White rhinos are one of the largest land mammal species.
African white rhinos are the largest of all rhino species. They’re slightly larger than the greater one-horned rhino, which is the largest rhino species in Asia. White rhinos can weigh up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg) and be as tall as 6 ft (1.8 m). The length of their head and body combined can reach up to 16 ft (5 m).
People are the number one predator of rhinos.
Rhinos have very few predators due to their large size. They’re preyed upon by tigers in Asia and lions, leopards, and Nile crocodiles in Africa. Baby rhinos are most vulnerable to these predators.
Although these animals do prey on rhinos, they’re not a rhino’s biggest threat. Humans are the number one predator of rhinos due to poaching and habitat destruction.
There’s a day dedicated to rhinos.
World Rhino Day occurs every year on September 22. It’s a day to spread awareness of the five existing rhino species. It highlights the conservation efforts that have been made to help their populations.
Rhinos are important to the ecosystems they live in.
Rhinos have been called “ecosystem engineers” because of their positive effect on their ideal habitats. They help maintain the health of grasslands as grazers. This helps other smaller herbivores thrive as well. They also help with the seed dispersal of plants and fruits they eat.
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How many rhinos are killed each year?
The number of rhinos killed each year can fluctuate. For example, a spike in rhino killings occurred in 2015 when almost 1,500 African rhinos were poached. Almost 500 poachings of African rhinos occurred in 2021.
Between 2008 and 2021, about 11,000 rhinos were poached in Africa. The annual average of poached rhinos in Africa alone between 2008 and 2011 was 846 individuals. This number does not include poached rhinos in Asia.
How many rhinos were there in 1900?
There were 500,000 rhinos in Africa and Asia in 1900. Human activity and climate change have caused the world rhino population to decrease by more than 400,000 within one century.
Are rhinos dinosaurs?
Rhinos aren’t dinosaurs, and they aren’t close relatives either. One of the main differences between the two is that rhinos are mammals and dinosaurs belong to a large group of reptiles called archosaurs. They appeared in the Triassic period approximately 251 million years ago. The true rhino family Rhinocerotidae didn’t appear until about 40 million years ago.
Which animals went extinct in 2022?
The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove 23 species from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants in September 2021 due to extinction. Some of these animals included the Bachman’s warbler, the little Mariana fruit bat, and the ivory-billed woodpecker.