Africa Black Rhinos May Be Heading Back From Brink

John Pickrell
for National Geographic News
July 7, 2004

The recovery of Africa's southern white rhinoceros population from no more than 50 animals a century ago to over 11,000 today is a conservation success story. More grim has been the tale of the continent's black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis).

Poachers drove its numbers down from perhaps a million at the turn of the 20th century to an all-time low of 2,400 in the mid-1990s. But a new survey suggests that a promising new chapter may have begun for the massive animal.

Antipoaching efforts and breeding programs by government agencies and conservation organizations have reversed the black rhino's decline, according to a report by the World Conservation Union's African Rhino Specialist Group.

The group found that black rhino numbers increased by 500 animals in the last two years alone and today stand at roughly 3,600.

"This is a long-term conservation project. … After 43 years of funding for black rhino work, we're finally starting to see a return for our money," Callum Rankine said.

Rankine is a WWF international species officer based in Surrey, England. WWF is one of a number of conservation organizations working to save the black rhino.

"This increase in numbers is really encouraging," Rankine said. "Despite threats like poaching and habitat destruction, [black] rhino numbers are moving away from the brink of extinction. It is fantastic news for the rhinos and the conservationists working to protect them."

Ivory Poaching

The majority of black rhinos remaining today are found in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

Rankine says some experts have estimated that a million black rhinos may have roamed Africa at the turn of the 20th century. But others believe that the number of black rhinos has been declining from approximately 850,000 animals since 1700.

More reliable contemporary estimates, however, suggest that there were at least a hundred thousand black rhinos in 1960.

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