Although habitat loss is an important consideration when evaluating the decline in the rhino populations, the main threat comes from poaching.

Rhino horn is a highly valuable commodity, used in traditional Chinese medicine in China, Vietnam and other parts of East Asia.

Recent years have been disastrous for rhino conservation, with the number of rhinos poached adding up to 200-300 or more per year in South Africa alone. This is 30 times the poaching levels seen in the 1990's. Sadly, poaching shows no signs of slowing.


Poaching affects all species of rhinos worldwide. They all face an uncertain future.

Asian rhinos are at enormous risk from poaching. The Javan and Sumatran rhinos of Southeast Asia are already on the brink of extinction. Around 300 Sumatran rhinos live in Indonesia and Malaysia, with a population of around 50 Javan rhinos clinging on in Indonesia.

Fewer than 3 000 greater one-horned rhinos remain in Nepal and Northeastern India. Reports from India suggest that beleaguered populations of one-horned rhinos in Assam are being poached. Their horns are smuggled across the poorly protected border to Myanmar. Since 2008, there have been more than 60 known rhino poaching incidents in just India and Nepal.

In Africa, Kenya’s black rhinos have been reduced in number from around 20 000 in the 1970's, to approximately 500 today. Zimbabwe’s populations of white and black rhinos are being heavily targeted. Swaziland officials have expressed concern that poaching could threaten the future of rhinos in their tiny country.

South Africa is home to 70% of the world’s remaining rhinos. This is mainly to the successful re-population of the southern white rhinos from a few individuals at the turn of the 20th century. It has grown to around 20 000 today.

The black rhinos number are struggling much more with around 5 000 left; the biggest populations are located in Namibia, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Recently, Rwanda had announced the news of their first black rhino born in the wild.


Most rhino populations have had legal protection from the impacts of international trade since the 1970's, through their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

However, the populations of white rhinos in South Africa and Swaziland were downlisted to Appendix II in 1994 and 2004 respectively, specifically to allow the export of live rhinos and hunting trophies.


If rhino populations are to be saved from extinction at the hands of poachers, several actions must be undertaken:

  • All rhino populations need better protection;
  • More trained and well-equipped park staff are urgently required globally;
  • Border security must be tightened to stop horns from being moved between countries;
  • Loopholes in national and international regulations should be closed. This is to prevent poachers from posing as trophy hunters and exporting 'trophy' horns for sale into the lucrative traditional medicine markets;
  • Exports of live rhinos from South African ranches to China, Vietnam and other Asian destinations must be stopped;
  • Horn stockpiles that are currently in private hands need to be managed by governments in a transparent way - preferably destroyed, and;
  • Every effort must be made to reduce demand for rhino horn in China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. This is through engaging the Traditional Chinese Medicine community, and through education, awareness-raising and rigorous law enforcement.