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 2017 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 three, 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. In the wild there are an estimated 3,333 greater one-horned rhino (Indian rhino), fewer than 100 Sumatran rhino, and only 58-61 Javan rhino.
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.
Although rhino poaching statistics for 2016 are available for some countries, others may not release that data until the end of Q1 2017. For countries that release the data regularly this information will be compiled and added to statistics featured on this page.
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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, 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 support of its tourism industry.
Limited data on rhino poaching in Botswana may be added in the future.
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. In April 2016 a greater one-horned rhino was poached only hours after Prince William’s visit to Kaziranga NP, bringing the year’s total to 7 for the first four months of the year.
Rhino Poaching in India (2006-April 2016)
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).
In a 2013 annual report the Kenya Wildlife Service reported that 59 rhino had been lost to poachers. 302 elephants were lost in the same period. 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 is estimated at roughly 38,000 according to the KWS 2012 annual report.
Rhino Poaching in Kenya (2006-2015)
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 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 through 2014. The Citizen (ZA) reports that throughout all of 2014 only 25 rhinoceros were poached in Namibia, indicating a spike in poaching during the second half of the year. 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 that figure dropped to at least 61 rhino killed throughout the country.
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.
Historical Rhino Mortality Data for Nepal (1998-2009)
Source: 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 zone (IPZ) is estimated to be home to 5,000 rhino. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs as well as the South African National Parks (SAN Parks) 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 item 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.
In a 2014 year-end report SAN Parks 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 SAN Parks 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 161 killed within the province in 2016. As of June 2017 rhino poaching has decreased slightly compared to the same time in 2016, with 529 illegally killed, but it is likely that poaching has increased yet again in flagship national parks in KwaZulu-Natal.
Rhino Poaching in South Africa (1990-June 2017)
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, and ZA DEA Progress on ISMR July, 2017.
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 below. The TRAFFIC data may take into account illegally killed rhino outside of SAN Parks. Data from the year 2006 also has conflicting reports. SAN Parks 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.