• The African Black Rhino population is gradually growing, thanks to conservation efforts.
  • Law enforcement and population management measures have helped to raise numbers by 2.5 per cent per year.
  • However, even the most successful sub-species is only classified as 'Near Threatened', with others remaining 'Critically Endangered', so continued measures will be necessary.

The number of critically endangered African rhinos is slowly increasing following “immense” conservation efforts, according to the latest figures. An update released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows the African Black Rhino population is gradually rising, at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent.

Between 2012 and 2018, the number of rhinos in Africa grew from an estimated 4,845 to 5,630. The increase has been attributed to continuing law enforcement efforts and population management measures, including moving selected rhinos from established populations to new locations.

Dr Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of IUCN, said: “While Africa’s rhinos are by no means safe from extinction, the continued slow recovery of Black Rhino populations is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries the species occurs in, and a powerful reminder to the global community that conservation works.”

But she added: “At the same time, it is evident that there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats. It is essential that the ongoing anti-poaching measures and intensive, proactive population management continue, with support from national and international actors.”

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Population models predict a further slow increase over the next five years, according to the IUCN update.

The south-western black rhino, a subspecies of the black rhino, has seen sufficient population growth over the last three generations to be newly categorised as Near Threatened, the IUCN said. But the other two surviving subspecies, the South-eastern and Eastern, both remain Critically Endangered due to drastic declines between the 1970s and 1990s.

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Meanwhile, Africa’s other rhino species, the white rhino, continues to be categorised as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

While poaching of African rhinos continues to be the main threat to the two species, the IUCN said the strong counter-measures taken by range states, private landowners and communities in recent years are having a positive effect.

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Figures indicate poaching numbers have decreased after a peak in 2015, when a minimum of 1,349 rhinos were found to have been poached. In 2018, there were a minimum of 892 rhinos poached, equivalent to one every 10 hours.

Dr Richard Emslie, Red List authority coordinator for the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group, said: “If the encouraging declines in poaching can continue, this should positively impact rhino numbers. Continued expenditure and efforts will be necessary to maintain this trend.”


The update to the Red List shows more than 31,000 of 116,177 known species are threatened with extinction.

Reader Q&A: How does trophy hunting affect wild animal populations?

Asked by: Steven White, Bromley

Since the days of the Roman Empire, wild animals have been slaughtered to prove power and wealth. Bigger is better when it comes to this ‘sport’, which means that dominant, mature male rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards and other animals are the prime targets of hunters.

The artificially premature loss of strong, healthy individuals takes vital genes out of the breeding pool which, over time, can result in an overall decline in body size and, where applicable, also horn or tusk size.

Removing these frontline animals also undermines social cohesion and can leave members of prides and herds vulnerable to attack by other members of their own species. Although some argue that money from trophy hunting can help with conservation, there is not enough evidence to convince us that it can.

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.