The rhinoceros or rhino is one of the world's most magnificent creatures with its almost Prehistoric appearance. Sadly the five species of rhino are also among the group of animals most threatened with extinction (endangered).

Three of these rhino species are found in Asia: the Indian or one-horned rhino (population about 1 500), the Sumatran (population about 200) and the Javan (population about 50). The three Asian rhino species are well protected and their numbers have remained steady. The other two rhino are found here in Africa: the white rhino (numbering about 4 500 - 5 000) and the black rhino (population about 3 000).

The population of the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) is steadily declining. Black RhinoFrom a total number of at least 100 000 in 1960, spread across most of Africa south of the Sahara Desert, there are today fewer than 3 500 black rhino left. Most of these survive in southern African countries where there are good protection measures e.g. South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. However poachers are managing to kill rhino in all three of these countries, despite protection. Numbers in South Africa have increased from about 100 to almost 700 since 1930.


Courtship and mating is complex and can take a long time. The male approaches the female with great caution, frequently interrupting his slow progress with a series of snorts. Often the male makes a distinctive display, swinging his head from side to side with his horn sweeping the ground. Sometimes he loses his nerve and runs off, fearful of an attack from the female, only to return once again with his characteristic stiff-legged gait. The courtship may go on in this fashion for several hours. The black rhino tends to be found on its own, except when a female is accompanied by her calf, and this calf leaves when the next calf is born, following a pregnancy of 15 months.


The main threat facing all these rhino, and particularly the black rhino, is man. Poachers kill rhino, not for meat for food, but to get the horns which they sell. Rhino horn is highly valued in certain parts of the world for medicinal and cultural reasons. The horn is made of a mass of fibres attached to the skin of the rhino's snout, and is similar to fingernails and hooves. In early times, the horn was made into drinking cups which were believed to detect poison.

In the Far East and especially China, people believe the horn can be used as medicine to reduce fever. In Yemen, a Middle Eastern country, the horn is used to make handles for ceremonial knives, called jambiyas, worn by young men. A lot of work has been done to tell people that the use of rhino horn is driving these magnificent creatures to extinction. Yemen has agreed to stop importing rhino horn, and chemical tests on the horn have shown that the horn has no medicinal effect. Different medicines are being promoted in Far East countries to reduce the demand for rhino horn. By reducing the demand conservationists hope the value of the horn will fall and that this in turn will persuade poachers to stop killing rhinos. Unfortunately the current high prices paid for rhino horn encourage an illegal trade.


Major efforts are being made to save the black rhino.

  • Rhino are being moved (translocated) away from unsafe areas where poachers are operating, to safe sanctuaries, and protection is being increased for rhino in existing conservation areas.

  • Efforts are being made to stop the illegal international trade in rhino horn, and harsher penalties for people caught poaching and dealing in the rhino horn are being introduced.

  • People are being persuaded to stop using rhino horn for medicines and cultural purposes.

  • Human communities living in areas where rhino are found must be able to benefit from conservation efforts. For example, some of the money paid by tourists coming to see the rhino should be used to improve the local living conditions. This encourages the local people to protect the rhino.

The black rhino is a magnificent, endangered species, and together with the elephant, it has come to symbolise the struggle to conserve Africa's wildlife. The rhino is a "flagship" species, meaning that it is a well known animal and can become a focus for conservation action. Efforts to save the black rhino can benefit the conservation of other species and the natural habitat which is essential for the rhino's survival. But stopping poachers will not save Africa's wildlife on its own. Ultimately the local people must also want to save the rhino, and this means making rhino in particular and conservation in general relevant to people.


The Black Rhino:

  • Weighs up to 1,5 tonnes and stands about 140 - 160cm high at the shoulder.

  • Is a browser and feeds on twigs, leaves, herbs and shoots. Thewhite rhino pointed upper lip is adapted for browsing individual twigs and shoots.

  • Is dark grey in colour, and tends to take on the colour of the ground where it lives due to its habit of wallowing in mud after bathing at waterholes.

  • Has eyelashes and hairy fringes on ears and the tip of the tail.


  • The black rhino is extremely fast and agile although it looks heavy and slow, and can make sharp turns even when running at their top speed of more than 50 km/hr.

  • The world's few thousand black rhino are surviving in about 60 scattered populations, most of these living in relatively small conservation areas, and the total population is still falling due to poaching. The poachers do not care that they are directly causing the extinction of this magnificent animal.


Smithers, R. Mammals of the Southern Africa Subregion. University of Pretoria.


  1. Endangered Wildlife Trust, Private Bag X1 1, Parkview, 2122.

  2. Natal Parks Board, P O Box 662, Pietermaritzburg, 3200.

  3. Rhino and Elephant Foundation, P O Box 381,Bedfordview, 2008.

  4. National Parks Board, P O Box 787, Pretoria 0001


Pick 'n Pay and Nampak sponsored the production of the original Enviro Facts developed with the help of several conservation bodies through the Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa. The fact that these factsheets are copyright-free has made possible the production of this version of the factsheets.

The slides for the images were kindly provided by Derek Keats. Gavin W. Maneveldt is also thanked for his constructive input in this production.


Created and maintained by: Jocelyn Collins
Last Updated: Thursday, February 01, 2001