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Poaching and land clearing for agriculture and human settlement in the 1970s and 80s decimated black rhinoceros populations across Africa, with numbers plummeting from 100,000 to fewer than 4,000 animals.

Today black rhinos are found in habitats ranging from desert in south-western Africa to the montane forests of Kenya. The eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) is the most endangered of the surviving black rhino subspecies, with only around 700 individuals remaining.

Black rhino facts

  • The black rhino has a pointed, prehensile upper lip ,which it uses to grasp leaves
  • Black rhinos actually have dark-brown or dark-grey skin, not black, and they can weigh up to 1,400 kg
  • Poaching has already driven one subspecies – the western black rhino – to extinction
  • For the three remaining subspecies, poaching remains the critical threat
At a glance
Diceros bicornis
Critically Endangered
South AfricaNamibiaKenyaZimbabwe

Family:

Rhinocerotidae

Order:

Perissodactyla

Est. in the wild:

5,040 – 5,458

The black rhinoceros is one of two rhino species found in Africa. Sadly, one black rhino subspecies has already been driven to extinction, and two others are critically endangered.

97%

of black rhinos were lost between 1960 and 1995, primarily as a result of poaching.

1,400 kg

Black rhinos can weigh as much as a small car.

Conservation story

Black rhinos have been brought back from the brink of extinction but remain critically endangered. The primary threat to rhinos in East Africa is still illegal poaching for their horn. However, in countries with concerted conservation programmes, based on intensive protection and biological management to ensure high population growth rates, black rhino numbers are stable or slowly increasing.

How FFI is helping to save the black rhino

Kenya is home to around 80% of eastern black rhinos. To protect them, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) supports Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a crucial sanctuary in Kenya’s Laikipia County that holds the largest population of black rhinos in East Africa.

The conservancy was established in 2003 when FFI, with the help of the Arcus Foundation, purchased a 364-km2 cattle ranch that forms part of a key wildlife corridor at the foot of Mount Kenya. The ranch was converted into a wildlife conservancy – Ol Pejeta – and ownership was transferred from FFI to a Kenyan non-profit entity in 2005 under a long-term management agreement.

FFI has continued to work with Ol Pejeta ever since its establishment, including assisting with the translocation of black rhinos into the conservancy, and providing ongoing support to protect these animals from poaching, ensuring high standards of monitoring, and developing incentives for local support for rhino conservation through Ol Pejeta’s community development programme.

Through the Northern Rangelands Trust, which FFI helped establish, we are also supporting the Sera Wildlife Conservancy and the Borana Conservancy, and their respective rhino conservation programmes.

Key to the success of all these conservancies is the support from local communities, garnered through engagement, awareness and employment programmes in each area.

“As well as providing adequate levels of protection alongside capability and resources for rhino monitoring, it will also be essential to manage existing populations well and ensure that they have enough high-quality, secure habitat to thrive and grow. If we are to offset future poaching losses, we need to see net population growth above 5% per year.”

Dr Rob BrettSenior Technical Specialist, Africa