The State Of The Rhino 2021
The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) publishes a report each year detailing conservation trends and developments for the five rhino populations in Africa and Asia. IRF funds rhino conservation efforts and scientific research, focusing on anti-poaching efforts, breeding programs, habitat management and education. In its latest report, the IRF has some good news, but also notes some troubling trends. Following is a summary of the latest findings for each of the five species.
Greater one-horned rhinos (India and Nepal)
In the early 1900’s, there were only about 100 of these animals left. Now, there are at least 3,700 greater one-horned rhinos in the wild. The governments of India and Nepal strictly enforce anti-poaching laws. Indeed, in the past year, there were only two recorded losses in the state of Assam due to poaching. And there are now rhino populations in four protected areas. A new strategic plan for India’s rhinos sets out a target population increase of 800 animals over the next decade.
The news is also good in Nepal. In 2015, the rhino population stood at 645. The latest survey counted 752 animals, an increase of 16.6%. However, there are troubling trends in Chitwan National Park, home to the country’s largest rhino population. Natural rhino deaths in the park have increased over the past several years. Also, 2020 saw four rhinos poached from the park, the first in nearly four years.
Javan Rhinos (Indonesia)
Numbering just 75 individuals, this species is critically endangered. With three natural deaths and four births, the population rose by just one over the past year. These rhinos are found only in Indonesia’s Uiung Kulon National Park. Ten years ago, the park had fewer than 50 rhinos, so the population is growing slowly. The park has a comprehensive monitoring program that tracks each rhino. The data gathered helps to protect and manage this species.
Javan rhinos need to supplement their diet with salt, which they used to find along park beaches. However, rhinos have deserted the beaches as people have encroached. In response, the park set up two marine Rhino Protection units to stop people from fishing illegally in park waters. Hopefully, this will encourage the rhinos to return to the beaches rather than travel inland for long distances to find salt-rich plants. The park has also undertaken a program to remove Arenga palm where it is crowding out the rhinos’ preferred food sources.
Sumatran Rhinos (Indonesia)
A second Indonesian rhino species is not faring as well. The Sumatran rhino is also critically endangered, with less than 80 left in the wild. However, in contrast to the Javan rhino, the population of Sumatran rhinos is in decline. In 2018, a new project, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, began work with the Indonesian government to move Sumatran rhinos to conservation breeding facilities. The goal is to increase numbers as quickly as possible. These animals will serve as a source for rhinos that will eventually be released into the wild. Because of the economic impacts of the pandemic, these rhinos are at increased risk of poaching, and every effort is being made to protect them.
White Rhinos (Africa)
Official estimates number the southern White rhinos population at around 18,000. This is down 12% over the last 10 years. But in February 2021, Kruger National Park, the park with the largest population of White rhinos in the world, reported a staggering drop in rhino numbers. Their 2019 population counts showed only about 3,549 animals, down 67% from a 2011 census of 10,621. If that is the case, the total number of White rhinos may be closer to 15,500.
Poaching is on the rise here. An organized criminal network operates in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Namibia that kills rhinos and smuggles their horns to Vietnam. The Botswana government is fighting back by moving rhinos to safer locations. And Zambia is working to disrupt trade routes and intercept horn shipments.
Black Rhinos (Africa)
The news is better for the Black rhino, who roams across nine African countries. While still critically endangered, their numbers are increasing and stand between 5,366 and 5,630. The past 10 years have seen an increase in the species population of 16-17%. In Zimbabwe, a partnership between the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Frankfurt Zoological Society translocated 29 Black rhinos to Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. This is the first time in 30 years that Black rhinos have lived in Zimbabwe.
Namibia is home to the largest meta-population of Black rhinos in Africa. Etosha National Park supports a majority of these animals and numbers are rising. While poaching is a tremendous threat to rhinos, Namibia has seen fewer incidents than neighboring South Africa. A further risk is drought, which from 2017 to 2019 required moving rhinos into areas with enough water and adequate safety.
In Kenya, the state owns all Black rhinos. They live in small, fenced, heavily-protected areas on government and private land. Poaching has declined significantly over the last eight years, and 2020 marked the first year in the last two decades to see no Black rhino losses from poaching. The current population goal set by the government is to have 830 Black rhinos by the end of 2021.
IRF is looking at various strategies to continue conservation gains. Artificial reproductive technology may be able to bring back animals from the edge of extinction. Surveillance systems have improved dramatically. Law enforcement efforts snare poachers and traffickers, and several high-profile arrests have been made during the last year. Advocates can aid rhinos by collaborating with governments on protection and anti-poaching efforts and working with local communities to incentivize wildlife conservation. Threats faced by rhinos are ongoing, but our efforts can make a difference for this magnificent species.