Hundreds of thousands of rhinoceros populated Africa and Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century even after centuries of demand for rhino horn from the Middle East, India, China, and eventually the West. Today illegal hunting accounts for the vast majority of rhinoceros deaths and poaching throughout the Asian and African continents is largely spurred by demand from wealthy individuals in Asian nations eager to show off their financial success. But antique and gray market products of ambiguous age still thrive around the world as the price of rhino horn increases to more than $60,000 per kilogram ($1,700 per ounce).
The most recent thorough and comprehensive studies and census estimates suggest that there are estimated to be roughly 20,700 southern white rhino and 4,885 black rhino in Africa, including their subspecies, but as of 2018 the actual number is likely much fewer. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is home to 7,000-8,300 rhino as of 2016. The northern white rhino subspecies has been reduced to just two living in East Africa. The three species of rhino in Asia are also threatened by the demand for rhino horn as a symbol of wealth or to be used as part of traditional oriental medicines. As of the end of 2017 there are an estimated 3,333 greater one-horned rhino (Indian rhino), and at least 67 of the Javan species, and as few as 30 rhinos of the Sumatran species left in the wild.
Africa’s white rhino species is the largest of any living rhinoceros species, weighing up to 3,600 kilograms (7,920 pounds), and is the continent’s third-largest species after the African bush elephant and African forest elephant. The black rhino, which is gray, can weigh up to 1,400 kg (3,100 pounds). The lifespan of a wild rhinoceros is unknown, but expected to be 35-50 years for any species.
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Note: The statistics presented here are the minimum number of known animals poached in a given country, region, or park. Due to the immense difficulty in detecting and finding the remains of animals, it’s likely that ground and aerial surveys are unable to detect animals killed in densely forested regions or areas where scavengers quickly dispose of the remains. Some groups and agencies may also be intentionally under-reporting poaching incidents.
PoachingFacts reports only the hard data; figures assumed or estimated by mathematical modelling will only be mentioned with specific qualifiers underscoring their inaccuracy and basis for estimation. Please also note that while rhino poaching statistics for 2019 are available for some countries, others may not release that data until the middle of the year or beginning of the next. For countries that release data regularly this information will be compiled and added to statistics featured on this page.
Botswana is presently home to roughly a third of Africa’s elephants and is a popular destination for tourists seeking the scenery of the ancient Kalahari Desert and the huge concentrations of wildlife in Chobe National Park. In the past Botswana has faced severe poaching problems and within the last several years has made significant investments in the protection of its wildlife. These programs include wildlife relocation to safer internal areas; translocation of wildlife from dangerous areas of South Africa by the Rhino Without Borders campaign; wildlife monitoring through governmental and non-governmental organizations; and strong support of its wildlife tourism industry. The country’s population of black rhinoceroses and white rhinoceroses were estimated to number 502 as of the end of 2017 (page 2).
According to a government statement, from the 10 month period April 2019 through late February 2020 there were 46 confirmed rhinos poached. This represents roughly 9 percent of the population and is a dramatic uptick in the poaching of rhinoceros experienced in the country. The majority of rhinos were poached in Moremi Game Reserve, which is adjacent to Chobe National Park and resides within the eastern part of the Okavango Delta.
There are three species of rhinoceros in Asia compared to Africa’s two. While Africa’s rhinos both have two horns, rhinos in Asia are notable for having only one. The species native to India is aptly named the Indian rhino and like the Javan and Sumatran species have suffered tremendously from over-hunting and poaching.
Conservation efforts, including anti-poaching and stronger support for national parks, have helped to increase Indian rhinoceros populations (pages 7 & 8) in the country. In Kaziranga National Park rhino populations recovered from 366 individuals in 1966 to 1,855 in 2006. From 2006 through 2015 just under 200 rhinos have been documented as poached in India. Poaching has steadily decreased within WPSI’s areas of operation and data-collection since a peak of 41 in 2013 with just 13 illegally killed in 2017.
Rhino Poaching in India (2006-2017)
Kenya is home to many national parks and national reserves that have provided a home to tens of thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinoceros just a few years ago. The Amboseli, Tsavo East, and Tsavo West National Parks, as well as the Maasai Mara National Reserve, are among the most popular tourist destinations in the country and help bring in hundreds of thousands of local and international visitors each year. Many of these parks and reserves are protected by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), established in 1990, which employs anti-poaching rangers and other personnel to combat local wildlife poaching as well as cross-border operations to arrest major wildlife parts traffickers. These traffickers bring ivory, leopard skins, and rhino horn into the country with the express intent to smuggle the products to foreign markets.
In an inventory conducted by Kenyan authorities and external groups concluded on 27 August, 2015 Kenyan authorities reported that government-held stockpiles contained more than 1,248 pieces of rhinoceros horn weighing 1,519 kg (3,349 pounds).
A 2011 annual report by the Kenya Wildlife Service suggests that at least 27 rhino were lost in the corresponding year, however the figure for 2011 was stated as 29 in a 2015 annual report (page 30). It is the first time this higher figure appears and could be a typographical error. In a 2013 annual report KWS indicated that 59 rhino had been lost to poachers that year along with 302 elephants. The country is known to have lost at least 24 rhinoceros and 137 elephants to poachers in 2014. Fortunately the existing Black Rhinoceros populations have been recovering from past poaching epidemics through careful monitoring and translocation efforts. In 2007 they numbered 577 individuals and in 2009 had reached 612. The native elephant populations within KWS-monitored areas also appears to be growing according to 2013 census data which placed the number at 1,930, up from 1,420 in 2010. The total elephant population within Kenya was estimated at roughly 38,000 according to the KWS 2012 annual report, but has been revised down to approximately 30,000 in later annual reports.
Rhino Poaching in Kenya (2006-August 2018)
Sources: Kenya Wildlife Service Annual Report 2008, KWS Annual Report 2009, KWS Annual Report 2010, KWS Annual Report 2011, KWS Annual Report 2012, KWS Annual Report 2013, News24.com, The-Star.co.ke, KWS Annual Report 2015, and KWS Elephant and Rhino Poaching and Trafficking Trends August 2018 (unpublished).
Namibia does not appear to regularly report to the public the poaching statistics within its borders. However various South African and Namibian news outlets do provide some insight from official sources into the poaching of both elephant and rhinoceros within the country:
In the ten year period from 2005-2014 the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has reported that 8 white rhinos and 95 black rhinos have been poached. The Namibian Sun reports 116 elephant deaths due to poaching and 10 rhinos poached from the period January 2012 – May 2014. A total of 24 or 25 rhino were killed throughout 2014, indicating a spike in poaching during the second half of the year. This includes the October 2014 incident of a rhino poached in Namibia’s flagship Etosha National Park for the first time in recent history. In 2015 there were 91 rhino poached, most believed to have occurred in Etosha National Park while at least 4 were in Kunene. In 2016 fewer rhinoceroses were illegally killed, down to at least 61 rhino killed throughout the country, with varying reports of 160 or 162 rhino killed for the combined 2015-2016 two-year period which does not quite align with the individual annual figures for 2015 and 2016 or 91 and 61 respectively. To emphasize this in the dataset below, we’ve added the difference to 2016 in red, which is comparable to the 11 last-minute tallies of rhino poaching-related fatalities in 2015 which were not included in the official report for that year. Along with the decline in rhinos killed, 2016 also saw an increase in the number of arrests of alleged poachers and people in possession of rhino horn. Rhino poaching declined in 2017, with 36 killed that year, but by the end of 2018 the tally had surged dramatically to 72 deaths of protected black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros. In 2019 and 2020 rhino poaching saw two full years of decline, however it’s uncertain how COVID-19 impacted assessment and reporting during 2020. That year the Namibian government issued revised statistics indicating 46 rhino were illegally killed in 2019 and 22 in fiscal year 2020.
Rhino Poaching in Namibia (2014-September 2020)
|Arrests Related to Wildlife Poaching (Including Rhino)||Data Unavailable||96||82||DU||48||DU||19|
Sources: 2014-2016 data from NewEra.com.na unless otherwise noted; 91 rhino figure also from WWF; 2017-April 2018 data from Namibian.com.na. Comprehensive 2018-2019 data from Reuters. Updated 2018-2020 data from NamibianSun.com.
Statistics Note: In recent years Namibia appears to be reporting annual rhino and elephant poaching in relation to fiscal years (ending mid-September), not calendar years. Annual rates of poaching may not be directly comparable to earlier years.
Despite its small size the country of Nepal has historically had an incredibly diverse ecology with excellent habitats for large mammals that today are rare. Unfortunately human-wildlife conflict (page 10), human- and livestock-encroachment on wildlife habitats (pages 10, 13), and severe poaching have had a significant impact on the populations of many of the larger mammalian species, including the tiger and greater one-horned rhino.
In recent years, rhino poaching is a rare occurrence compared to the 1970s, before the creation and expansion of Chitwan National Park, and then the period of insurgency further decimating rhino populations during the Nepalese Civil War (1996-2006). Since 2009 rhino poaching has dropped precipitously, with at least five 365-day periods without losing a single rhino inside Chitwan NP, but more comprehensive mortality data is unavailable.
Since the end of the Nepalese Civil War the rhino populations has shown sustained increases. In 2005 the country’s population of greater one-horned rhino may have declined to 375 from nearly 600 just five years earlier. A census conducted in 2011 reported 534 rhino across the country, a 42.4 percent increase from the prior census. As of 2015 the population was estimated to have grown further to 634 and by 2021 was 752, with the majority of rhino in the stronghold Chitwan National Park. However this population level concerns some ecologists who estimate Chitwan NP may not be able to support more rhino and that some rhino should be translocated to other parks in Nepal.
Nepal has been received many accolades from the international community due to its conservation successes and strongly reduced number of illegal killings. These successes are attributed to its government-lead anti-poaching and community conservation efforts. More rhino are being lost to natural causes than poachers and the country celebrates months and even years without a single rhino poaching incident. In early April of 2017 poachers in Chitwan National Park killed a rhino and made off with its horn. In April 2018 Nepal heralded 365 days without losing a rhino and maintained 41 months without a poaching incident until September 2020 when a rhino was killed.
Historical Rhino Mortality Data for Nepal (1998-2009)
Sources: Proceedings of the AsRSG Meeting, 2010 (page 11); IUCN.
South Africa has the largest populations of rhinoceros of any African nation. The famous Kruger National Park, an expansive 19,633 square kilometers (7,580 sq. mi) home to some 7,000-8,300 rhinoceroses, is among the largest poaching targets in southern Africa. The park’s intensive protection zones (IPZ) are estimated to be home to 5,000 rhino. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs as well as the South African National Parks (SANParks) have historically released quarterly data on rhinoceros poaching statistics and arrests of suspected poachers; as of 2015 this data is released roughly twice a year and now includes elephant poaching statistics.
Data from the 1990s through the early 2000s show the very low interest in rhinoceros horn as either a trophy or folk medicine desired by the Asian market. It wasn’t until 2008 that law enforcement saw a substantial increase in rhino poaching incidents in public parks and private reserves throughout the country. This surge in demand roughly corresponds to the 2008 sale of 107,770 kg (237,592 pounds) of elephant ivory made to Japan and China (page 12) by southern African nations including South Africa. However the recent resurgence of Asia’s demand for rhino horn is thought have begun two or three years prior. Indeed, 2007 was one of the first years in which pseudo-hunts of rhino were arranged for Thai nationals in South Africa, sometimes with forged hunting permits. Read more about Organized Crime: South Africa ►
In a 2014 year-end report SANParks reports that 1,020 rhinoceros, of the black rhino and white rhino species, have been poached and 344 suspected poachers arrested. More recent, comprehensive data covering all of 2014 indicates 1,215 rhino killed in 2014 and 386 suspected poachers arrested. In the 2015 annual report SANParks stated that 1,175 rhinoceros were known to have been illegally killed throughout the country, a slight decrease from the previous year, and 317 suspected poachers arrested and 188 firearms seized. Of these, 826 rhino would killed in the flagship Kruger National Park. The remaining 349 poached rhino died in other parks or provinces, but it is believed the majority of poaching occurred in KwaZulu-Natal. As a result of administrative changes in the way that rhino poaching is reported by the South African government, data for 2015 is provided by official sources only as officially, but other sources have provided reliable statistics for specific regions over a limited period. Notably, 86 rhino were killed in KwaZulu-Natal between 1 January and 28 September, 2015. Rhino poaching in KZN has been steadily increasing almost every year since 2008, with 116 killed in 2015 and 161 or 162 killed (page 61) within the province in 2016. By the end of 2017 slightly fewer rhinos have been illegally killed compared to the previous year, with 504 occurring inside KNP and 524 occurring in other regions of South Africa, bringing the total to 1,028.
Throughout 2018 rhino killings continued their downward trend according to official statistics, where by the end of the year only 769 rhino had been reported lost to poaching, the first time since 2012 that fewer than 1,000 rhino had been poached in a year. Rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal dropped to 142 in 2018 from its peak of 222 the previous year. The first half of 2019 saw 316 rhinos poached throughout the country, 70 fewer than during the same period in 2018, suggesting a continued trend in reducing successful poaching incidents. However there was a worrying uptick in poaching in Gauteng province, historically with little rhino poaching, and an increase in poaching in Free State province compared to the first half of 2018. During the first half of 2019 there were 253 arrests nationally related to rhino horn trafficking or poaching, an increase in total arrests compared to 2018, but many of the court cases from the previous year remain unresolved due to a slow and flawed judicial system.
South Africa’s official poaching data for the first and second halves of 2020 showed an unprecedented decline in reported illegal killings of rhinoceros throughout the country. For the first time, the newly renamed Department of Environment, Forests and Fisheries (formerly Environmental Affairs), formally denoted in their report the number of rhino killed on private lands (16) compared to public lands (150). There are many factors contributing to an apparent decline in the number of rhinos poached during 2020. In late March the country experienced strict enforcement of curfews and a 21-day nationwide lockdown, which was subsequently extended for an additional 14 days, and a months-long state of disaster. The country again entered a strictly enforced lockdown at the end of 2020 that carried into early 20201. As a result of numerous safety and precautionary measures anti-poaching operations and scrutiny of wildlife crimes by law enforcement was reduced. Although a decrease in reported poaching incidents has been attributed to the COVID-19 crisis, it is not possible to evaluate the full impact wildlife crimes and anti-poaching operations during the pandemic.
South Africa’s final report on rhino poaching during 2020 indicated a decline to 394 illegal killings throughout the year. Of those, 245 rhino were killed in KNP and 2 were killed in Marakele National Park. All other regions of the country also reported a decrease in rhino killed for the year.
Notes on South African Rhino Poaching Reports: From at least 2010 through 2014 Marakele National Park (MNP) and Mapungubwe National Park (MAP) were reported individually. For the calendar years 2016 and 2017 data referring to “Kruger National Park” also includes poaching data on MNP and MAP. Due to the way South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (ZA DEA) reported their statistics we expect this policy of reporting Kruger National Park to include all three national parks and have actually begun with statistics reported for the year 2015. In 2018 ZA DEA again changed their reporting terminology and referred to all rhino poaching inside of national parks as “SANParks.” This intentional obfuscation of statistics (demonstrated here: NECER 2017, page 61) makes it more difficult to understand the full breadth of poaching in these smaller parks in the northeast of the country. However it should also be noted that according to what data is available, from 2010 onward, that reports of rhino poaching in MNP and MAP have been uncommon.
Rhino Poaching in South Africa (1990 – 31 December, 2020)
Sources: 1990-2005 data from TRAFFIC’s The South Africa – Viet Nam. Rhino Horn Trade Nexus report (page 69). 2000-2005 data corroborated by OSCAP. 2006 data from Int’l Rhino Foundation report. 2007-2010 data from SaveTheRhino News Release. 2010-2014 data from Media Release: Rhino poaching statistics 20 November 2014, South African Department of Environmental Affairs. 2014/2015 Statistics Source: ZA DEA Media Release 22 January, 2015, Citizen.co.za – South Africa Rhino Poaching at New Record Levels, ZA DEA Media Release 30 August, 2015, ZA DEA Media Release 21 January, 2016, ZA DEA Progress on ISMR February, 2017, ZA DEA Progress on ISMR July, 2017, and updated 2015-2016 data from ZA DEA National Environmental Compliance Enforcement Report 2017, ZA DEA Progress on ISMR January, 2018, ZA DEA Progress on ISMR September, 2018, ZA DEA Progress on ISMR February, 2019, ZA DEA Report on First Half of 2019, ZA DEA Report on Rhino Poaching in 2019, Save The Rhino 2019 South Africa Poaching Analysis, ZA DEFF Rhino Poaching Decreases in 2020, and ZA DEFF Department Report on Rhino Poaching in 2020.
Statistics Note: Some South African authorities list 7 rhinos poached in South African National Parks during 2000 and 6 poached in 2001. Data provided by TRAFFIC from official sources cites 12 and 9 during those years, which are used in the chart above. The TRAFFIC data may take into account illegally killed rhino outside of SANParks. Data from the year 2006 also has conflicting reports. SANParks totals 24 rhino killed that year while an Int’l Rhino Foundation report cites 36 killed that year, which likely includes poaching activity outside the public parks.
Below is a data-set relating to the time-frame of “Operation Stronghold,” which ran from roughly 1984 through as late as the end of 1993, but likely was concluded prior to the end of that year. The chart below also includes the earliest years of Zimbabwe’s “independence era” (when it’s alleged that no rhino were poached), which began in 1980 after the country (formerly Rhodesia) was formerly granted independence from the United Kingdom.
The chart illustrates the influx of poachers, primarily from Zambia, into Zimbabwe’s parks overseen by Zimbabwe’s Department of National Parks and Wild Life Management (DNPWLM, ZimParks). However the chart likely does not take into account the illegal hunting conducted by military and insurgent personnel during and after the Zimbabwe War of Liberation (also “Rhodesian Bush War” or “Second Chimurenga”) and related conflicts. Nor does it take into account the government-authorized poaching of elephants, rhino, and other species during the 1980s, which may account for the steep decline of black rhino in the country during that period (page 20). According to Killing For Profit and other sources at the time during 1984 and 1985, the first two years of “Operation Stronghold,” 29 poachers were killed and a further 22 captured, markedly higher than what are shown in the records below.
Historical Rhino Poaching in Zimbabwe (1980-1993)
Chart source: The Rhino Anti Poaching War Rages On, October 2011.