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Black rhino. © Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock

Black rhino. © Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock

Black rhino

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It is hard to imagine that African rhinos were once widespread and abundant across the continent. Today, these instantly recognisable bulky but mobile heavyweights are renowned for their rarity.

Even as recently as the late 1960s, an estimated 70,000 black rhinos were thought to remain, but an epidemic of poaching and land clearance in the 1970s and 80s decimated their populations across Africa. By 1990, numbers had plummeted to fewer than 4,000 animals, most of them confined to protected areas. Rhinos continue to pay a heavy price for their horns, demand for which remains the greatest threat to their long-term survival.

Fascinating facts about black rhinos

    Big bang

    A group of rhinos is known as a crash.

    Black rhino. © Juan Pablo Moreiras / Fauna & Flora

    Black rhino. © Juan Pablo Moreiras / Fauna & Flora

    Rhino horn is made of solid keratin (the same fibrous material that forms human toenails, animal hooves and feathers). It is used in traditional Asian medicines and to demonstrate social status.

    1,400 kilos

    Black rhinos can weigh as much as a small car. 

    Black rhino © Juan Pablo Moreiras / Fauna & Flora

    Black rhino © Juan Pablo Moreiras / Fauna & Flora

    Black rhinos actually have dark-brown or dark-grey skin, not black.


    The percentage of the world’s black rhinos lost between 1960 and 1995, primarily as a result of poaching.

What are the main differences between black rhino and white rhino?

Black rhinos and white rhinos differ physically: white rhinos are bigger and more heavily built, with a bulkier, wider head. They also have very different feeding habits – the black rhino is a browser, while the white rhino is a grazer – which means that they can co-exist without competing for the same food source. Despite their names, black and white rhinos are not very different in colour; beneath the mud and dust, both species tend to be 50 shades of grey.

What do black rhinos eat?

Black rhinos feed on shrubs and other foliage. Their diet is made up of leaves, shoots, twigs and branches, whereas white rhinos eat grass. Black rhinos have been recorded feeding on around 200 different plant species. They are also attracted to salt licks.

Eastern black rhino. © Sacha Specker / Adobe Stock

Eastern black rhino. © Sacha Specker / Adobe Stock

An eastern black rhino in typical scrubland habitat.

Where do black rhinos live?

Black rhinos were once widely distributed across large areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Today, they are confined to tiny pockets of their former range, mainly in East and Southern Africa. Their remaining habitats range from desert in south-western Africa to the montane forests of Kenya.

The survival of these fragmented and severely reduced populations depends on active management and round-the-clock protection. Around 80% of eastern black rhinos – the most threatened subspecies – live in Kenya.

How many black rhinos are left?

Black rhinos have been brought back from the brink of extinction but remain critically endangered. One subspecies, the western black rhino, has already been declared extinct, and the remaining three are under severe pressure. The eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) is the most endangered of the surviving black rhino subspecies, with around 1,000 individuals remaining.

Black rhino eating. © Tony Heald / Nature Picture Library

Black rhino eating. © Tony Heald / Nature Picture Library

A black rhino browsing on a thorny acacia bush.

What threats do black rhinos face?

The primary threat to rhinos in 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.

Black rhino mother and calf. © Will Burrard-Lucas / Nature Picture Library

Black rhino mother and calf. © Will Burrard-Lucas / Nature Picture Library

Black rhino mother and calf in Kenya.

How can we help save black rhinos? 

Kenya is home to around 80% of eastern black rhinos. To protect them, Fauna & Flora 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 Fauna & Flora, 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 Fauna & Flora to a Kenyan non-profit entity in 2005 under a long-term management agreement. 

Fauna & Flora 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, 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. 

Baby rhino. © Camila Iturra / Fauna & Flora

Baby rhino. © Camila Iturra / Fauna & Flora

A rhino calf receives care at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Eastern black rhino. © Sacha Specker / Adobe Stock

Save the world's last rhinos

Black rhinos are severely threatened by poaching for their horns. You could help us protect and re-establish key rhino populations.

Time is critical, so please act now. Together, we can ensure a future for rhinos.

Please help us to save these incredible animals.


Eastern black rhino. © Sacha Specker / Adobe Stock