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:
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. From 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.
TO THE BLACK RHINO
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
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:
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
Smithers, R. Mammals of the Southern Africa
Subregion. University of Pretoria.
Endangered Wildlife Trust, Private Bag X1 1,
Natal Parks Board, P O Box 662,
Rhino and Elephant Foundation, P O Box
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