How have rhino populations changed over time? What species are at risk of extinction today?
by Hannah Ritchie
The largest mammals are at the greatest risk of extinction. This has been the case since the arrival of humans, and is still true today.
Weighing in at several tonnes, rhinos are some of the world’s largest mammals.1 With extravagant prices for rhino horns and body parts, they’re also one of the most threatened: three of the five rhino species are ‘critically endangered’.
In this article we take a look at the status of rhino populations today, and whether they are in decline or on the path to recovery. They offer us both stories of concern and reasons for optimism.
State of rhino populations today
There are five species of rhino. Africa is home to the White and Black Rhino. The remaining three – the Sumatran, Javan and Indian – exist in Asia.
Some of these species have dangerously low population levels.
The Sumatran and the Javan Rhino can now only be found in Indonesia. They are Critically Endangered with less than 100 individuals left in the wild. The Black Rhino, despite having a population in the thousands, is also Critically Endangered. It experienced a rapid decline over the 20th century as we will see later.
The Indian (Greater One-Horned) offers us an important success story; it has seen a significant recovery in recent decades. The White Rhino too has shown an impressive recovery. But it has a dark side: the Southern White Rhino might be doing well but the Northern sub-species is on the brink of extinction. There are only two Northern White Rhinos left, and both of them are female.
Are rhino populations increasing or decreasing?
The health of these rhino populations is not just determined by how many animals are left today. The direction and pace that these populations are changing matters too.
For each species I have built a time-series of populations globally and by country. This data is aggregated from multiple sources: the main one being the African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups (AfrSG) and TRAFFIC, which collate statistics on all rhino populations, and submit them to the IUCN.2
Let’s take a look at each of the five species one-by-one.
White rhino (Ceratotherium simum)
Overall, the story of the White rhino is a positive one. But this tale also has a darker side. There are two main subspecies: the Northern White and Southern White rhino. A century ago, the Northern was much more abundant than the Southern. Now the opposite is true.
In the chart we see the population trend of the Southern White Rhino. It’s touted as one of the world’s greatest conservation success stories.3 We don’t have precise estimates but it’s reported that by the mid-19th century it was still abundant. However, intense poaching by the Europeans and killings in the conversion of land for agriculture meant that by the late 19th century it was close to extinction. By 1900 there were only 20 left. All were in the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park in South Africa – now a nature reserve.
Over the course of the 20th century, severe protection of these species – particularly in African nature reserves – led to a significant and rapid increase. Populations were restored to more than 21,000. Numbers grew 1000-fold within a century.
Over the last few years, increases in poaching rates have unfortunately led to another decline. South Africa is home to around three-quarters of Southern White Rhinos. You can explore population estimates by country in the chart.
If the story of the Southern White Rhino is one of our greatest successes, the story of its Northern cousin must be one of our biggest failures. The Northern White Rhino is on the brink of extinction. There are only two individuals left. Both are female.
In the chart we see its demise over the second-half of the 20th century. In 1960, it’s estimated there were more than 2,000, predominantly in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Intense poaching, and challenges for protection during civil unrest in stronghold countries, has led to a rapid decline.
Sudan, the last remaining male died in Kenya in 2018. There are now only two female rhinos left: Najin and her daughter, Fatu. Both are guarded in a semi-wild enclosure, and have had their horns sawed off to deter poachers. Scientists are investigating ways to continue reproduction from the last females, including stem cell treatment and hybrid embryos from Northern White Rhino eggs and Southern White Rhino sperm.4
In 2021, researchers aim to implant embryos in both to try to get them to reproduce. Scientific innovation is now the only way to save these sub-species. Even if reproduction is successful, population numbers will be incredibly low for a long time. They will have to be closely guarded for a long time.
Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)
The story of the Black Rhino is similar to that of the Northern White. The once abundant species has seen a dramatic decline over the 20th century.
Even after intense poaching by European settlers over the 19th and early 20th century, in 1960 there were still around 100,000 Black rhinos in Africa.5 The decline which followed was rapid and dramatic: the number fell by more than 80% in only two decades. The population reached its low point in the early 1990s at around 2,500, and have since began to recover. The number of Black Rhinos has more than doubled to around 6,000. Nonetheless, continued poaching has still limited population growth in recent decades. The Black Rhino is still classified as Critically Endangered.6
Indian / Greater One-Horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)
The Indian (also called the Greater One-Horned) Rhino provides one success story in the restoration of wild mammals.
By the mid-20th century, there were very few Indian Rhinos left in the world. It’s estimated (with larger uncertainty since it predates regular surveying) that there were only 40 individuals left.
Since the mid-1960s, populations have increased nearly 100-fold. Latest estimates, taken in 2021, suggest there are now over 4,000 rhinos in the wild. This was the result of impressive conservation efforts to reduce poaching in both India and Nepal.
Unsurprising based on the name, India is home to more than 80% of the species. But Nepal also has a steady population. With only a few being spotted in recent decades, they are thought to now be extinct in Pakistan.
Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
The Javan Rhino is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. It is estimated there were only 76 rhinos left in 2021. This makes it Critically Endangered.
In the chart you see how Javan Rhino populations have changed over time.
In recent decades it has existed in two countries: Indonesia and Vietnam. But by 2010 it had gone extinct in Vietnam. Indonesia is now its only remaining home.
Its total population has, however, increased from 50 years ago. In the 1960s there were only 20 to 30 Javan Rhinos left in the world. From then until the 1990s, the population approximately doubled. The latest estimate puts this figure at 76 Javan Rhinos.
Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)
Like the Javan species, Sumatran rhinos are also one of the most endangered mammals. They’re Critically Endangered. There were only 41 left in the world in 2021.7
In the chart you can see how its population has changed over time.
Once found in both Malaysia and Indonesia, the Sumatran Rhino is thought to be extinct in Malaysia; none have been recorded in 2016 and 2018 surveys.
But in contrast to the Javan, the number of Sumatran Rhinos in the world has been falling in recent decades, from 600 individuals in the mid-1980s to around one-tenth of that figure today. Both Malaysian and Indonesian rhino populations have contributed to this loss.
How do we protect rhino populations?
The biggest threat to rhinos is poaching. Rhino horns are still seen as luxury goods and can sell for a lot of money in illegal wildlife markets.
But rhinos are not the only species at risk from poaching. It’s the leading threat for most large mammals. But some success stories – such as the restoration of Southern White and Indian Rhino populations – shows us that their demise is not inevitable. With the right approach we have the opportunity to turn things around. In a follow-up article we will look at the scale of global poaching, and what we can learn from the countries that have been successful in bringing it to an end.
What is the population of rhinos in the world? ›
Latest estimates, taken in 2021, suggest there are now over 4,000 rhinos in the wild. This was the result of impressive conservation efforts to reduce poaching in both India and Nepal. Unsurprising based on the name, India is home to more than 80% of the species. But Nepal also has a steady population.Is the rhino population decreasing? ›
Habitat Loss. As economic development, changes in grassland composition, logging, and agriculture degrade and destroy wildlife habitats, rhino populations are declining.How many black rhinos are left in 2023? ›
Black rhino: Black rhinos are a critically endangered species. An estimated population stands around 6,195 individuals. The majority of black rhinos are found in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.What percentage of rhinos are left in the world? ›
poaching. The numbers of rhinos have dramatically decreased over the years with a reported 70,000 remaining in 1970 and an estimate of 27,000 left today. In the last 25 years, three subspecies have become extinct. There are only two northern white rhinos left in the world today (2022) and they are both females.Are rhinos overpopulated? ›
The 'overpopulation' of rhinos is a myth. No doubt, the effective protection of Kaziranga National Park over decades has increased the population density of the rhinos in the core area, but the animal is present in comparable densities in many other areas of the Brahmaputra valley.Where is the largest rhino population? ›
The Indian state of Assam is home to the largest population of greater-one horned rhinos, with more than 90% in Kaziranga National Park.Why is the rhino population declined by 90% since 1970? ›
At the start of the 20th century, there were over 500,000. Human activity has caused this dramatic decline in rhino numbers. Initially, numbers dropped due to hunting, but today the main threats to rhino are poaching and habitat loss.Why is it the right thing to save rhinos? ›
Why rhinos matter. Rhinos have been around for millions of years and play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They're important grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, which helps shape the African landscape. This benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystem.How many rhinos do we have left? ›
The greatest threats to rhinos are poaching, habitat loss, and for some species, isolated small populations unable to reproduce. The five rhino species are very different from each other in biology, behavior, environments, and conservation needs. In total, there are only about 27,000 rhinos left in the world.How many black rhinos were there in 1970? ›
Large-scale poaching saw black rhino populations decline from around 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 – 96% over 20 years. Thanks to the persistent conservation efforts across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of above 6,100 individuals.
Is A white rhino still alive? ›
After more than a century of protection and management, they are now classified as Near Threatened and around 18,000 animals exist in protected areas and private game reserves. They are the only of the five rhino species that are not endangered. White rhinos have complex social structures.Are black rhinos making a comeback? ›
Since then, the species has made a tremendous comeback from the brink of extinction. Thanks to persistent conservation efforts across Africa, black rhino numbers have doubled from their historic low 20 years ago to around 5,500 today.How many rhinos are killed every year? ›
Comparing the number of illegal killings in 2022, 244 in KZN and 124 in KNP, is dramatic on its own. With rhino populations dwindling in KNP, the reduction in illegal killings is of little consolation. Poaching on private game reserves declined in 2022 to 86 rhinos killed compared to 124 the year prior.How many rhinos are left in zoos? ›
Worldwide, 302 zoos hold 1037 rhinos (ZIMS Data, December 2018) 174 of these hold 671 Southern white rhinos; 61 zoos hold 184 black rhinos (two subspecies) and 67 zoos hold 182 Greater one-horned rhinos.Are there 2 rhinos left in the world? ›
There are now only two northern white rhinos left in the world: Najin, a female, was born in captivity in 1989. She is the mother of Fatu.Are killing rhinos because? ›
Rhino poaching is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly China and Viet Nam. Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but increasingly common is its use as a status symbol to display success and wealth.What would happen if rhinos went extinct? ›
Without rhinos helping to sustain plant biodiversity and grazing lawns, the African savannas will become less hospitable to other herbivore species. One species that would be impacted is the critically endangered dama gazelle, which is estimated to have a population of just 500.How can we increase rhino population? ›
Measures taken (in national parks, on private properties and in communal conservancies) have included an annual dehorning programme, regular translocations to move selected rhinos out of high-risk areas, and deploying new technology for rhino monitoring and anti-poaching efforts.Has rhino poaching increased or decreased? ›
A total of 448 rhinos were illegally killed countrywide last year, three fewer than in 2021. However, the figures are still higher than they were the year before, when COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa led to a fall in poaching.What is being done to stop rhino poaching? ›
African Parks is creating safe havens for black rhinos by securing national parks and protected areas where they live, and reintroducing them to safe areas where they have gone locally extinct.
How do rhinos benefit humans? ›
Rhinos are gentle creatures that do not harm us, they benefit other species, habitats and communities just by being rhinos. Rhinos benefit mankind because of the natural resources within the rhino habitat with food, fuel, and income. Being one of Africa's “big five,” the rhino brings in large sources of income.How are we helping rhinos? ›
Preserve or develop new habitat for rhinos and other species. Protect rhinos from poaching. Provide information and education on the importance of the sustaining the rhino population to local communities and broader populations. Sustain the species via other sustainable and scalable projects.What are 10 interesting facts about rhinos? ›
- There are 5 species of rhino in the world. ...
- Rhinos can weigh over 3 tonnes. ...
- Black and white rhinos are both, in fact, grey. ...
- They're called bulls and cows. ...
- WHAT ARE RHINO HORNS MADE OF? ...
- Rhinos have poor vision. ...
- Javan rhinos are only found in one small place.
There are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, both female. Yet there is still hope that we can preserve their lineage. Your support today could help offer a lifeline for the world's rarest mammal.How many black rhinos were there in 1960? ›
In 1960, there were about 100,000 black rhinos alone in Africa, but widespread poaching sent that number plummeting to just 2,400 by 1992.What animal is closest to extinction? ›
- Javan Rhinos. ...
- Amur Leopard. ...
- Sunda Island Tiger. ...
- Mountain Gorillas. ...
- Tapanuli Orangutan. ...
- Yangtze Finless Porpoise. ...
- Black Rhinos. ...
- African Forest Elephant.
As a whole species, black rhino are more rare than the white rhino: Black rhino are 'critically endangered' with 3,142 mature individuals left. White rhino are 'near threatened' with an estimated 10,082 mature individuals left.What color is black rhino milk? ›
The milk of the Indian rhinoceros was ivory white and aromatic. The appearance of 19-mo lactation milk in the African black rhinoceros was reported to be white and watery.How many albino rhinos are left? ›
There are currently less than 16,000 white rhinos.Can a black rhino and white rhino mate? ›
Unfortunately, most rhinos species can't interbreed. For example, a northern white rhino can't mate with a black rhino.
What was the last male rhino? ›
Sudan was the last male northern white rhinoceros on earth — the end of an evolutionary rope that stretched back millions of years. Although his death was a disaster, it was not a surprise. It was the grim climax of a conservation crisis that had been accelerating, for many decades, toward precisely this moment.Can white rhinos breed with black rhinos? ›
The northern white rhino cannot mate with a black rhino, but there is a chance it could mate with a southern white rhino, Paul says. While southern white rhinos are not endangered – Ol Pejeta has 19 – they are a different subspecies from the northern white rhino genetically.How are we saving black rhinos? ›
Black rhinos biggest threats are poaching for their horns and habitat loss. To help protect rhinos in Kenya, they are kept in fenced and highly protected areas. To help protect the rhinos from poaching in Kenya, they are kept in 16 fenced and highly protected areas.Are rhinos making a comeback? ›
Rhinoceros populations are beginning to recover in the species' native Zimbabwe, indicating that conservation efforts are bearing fruit, according to animal conservationists.Can white rhinos be brought back? ›
Scientists have made a step toward bringing the northern white rhino back from near extinction in the wild by producing new embryos in a lab.When was the last rhino killed? ›
The rhino and the people who tried to save his species taught one photographer indelible lessons. Joseph Wachira, a keeper at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, says goodbye to Sudan, the last male northern white rhinoceros. Sudan died in 2018. Two females of the subspecies remain.How much is rhino horn worth? ›
The price for raw rhino horn ranges from USD 3,604 to USD 17,000 per kilo, calculated to equate to an overall average of USD 8,683 per kilo.How much money do poachers make? ›
Illegal wildlife trafficking is a business worth $5–$23 billion a year. According to poaching facts and statistics, illegal wildlife trafficking, fishing, and logging are the second most lucrative crime globally, with $73–$216 estimated yearly value.Why do zoos cut off rhino horns? ›
The Dvůr Králové Zoo has in the past trimmed their rhinos' horns as a safety measure during transport of the rhinos or for medical reasons. “The procedure is painless as the horn is made mostly of keratin (which our fingernails or hair are made of).Is rhino a dinosaur? ›
Rhinos are not related to dinosaurs, even remotely. The biggest difference is that rhinos are mammals and dinosaurs are considered reptiles.
Are captive rhinos friendly? ›
Despite their size, they have a gentle temperament. "They are very docile animals," said Bob Lessnau, curator of mammals at the Detroit Zoo. "They are very gentle. Our keepers have a very good relationship with the animals here."Are there any species with only 1 left? ›
1. Javan Rhinos. Once found throughout south-east Asia, Javan rhinos have suffered a staggering decline in their numbers due to hunting and habitat loss. The lone wild population of Javan rhinos is one of the rarest of the rhino species—around 75 individuals—which can only be found on the island of Java, Indonesia.How many tigers are left? ›
There are only approximately around 4,500 tigers left in the wild, according to the WWF, although some estimates put the number even lower. The most immediate threat to wild tigers is poaching, although some countries have limited resources for protecting areas where tigers live.Which species has the least population? ›
Expert-Verified Answer. The species which has the least population in the entire world is the vaquita porpoise. Vaquita porpoise is a marine mammal present in the Gulf of California in Mexico. It is the smallest creature living in the family of the cetaceans.How many Javan Rhinos are left 2023? ›
All of the estimated 77 Javan rhinos live in one place, Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP), and are protected and monitored by dedicated teams, working closely with National Park staff.Why is the rhino going extinct? ›
Next to poaching, loss of habitat contributes to declines in rhino population. Human activities such as agriculture, settlements, and infrastructure development result in the loss and fragmentation of rhino habitat, which increases the risk of poaching and inbreeding.How many white rhinos are left 2023? ›
There are currently less than 16,000 white rhinos.What is the #1 most endangered animal? ›
1. Javan Rhinos. Once found throughout south-east Asia, Javan rhinos have suffered a staggering decline in their numbers due to hunting and habitat loss. The lone wild population of Javan rhinos is one of the rarest of the rhino species—around 75 individuals—which can only be found on the island of Java, Indonesia.What is next to go extinct? ›
The Javan rhino is the closest to extinction with only around 60 individuals left, all of which are in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia, while black rhino population is estimated to be around 5,500 individuals.When was the last Javan rhino killed? ›
Vietnam's last Javan rhino was poached in 2010. This species is a dusky grey color and has a single horn of up to about 10 inches. Its skin has a number of loose folds, giving the appearance of armor plating.
What is being done to save rhinos? ›
African Parks is creating safe havens for black rhinos by securing national parks and protected areas where they live, and reintroducing them to safe areas where they have gone locally extinct.Why are rhinos important? ›
Why rhinos matter. Rhinos have been around for millions of years and play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They're important grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, which helps shape the African landscape. This benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystem.What can be done to save rhinos? ›
- Don't buy rhino horn products. The illegal trade in rhino horn poses the greatest threat to rhinos today.
- Adopt a Sumatran rhino through WWF-US.
- Adopt a rhino through WWF-UK.
- Use and support sustainable wood, paper and palm oil. ...
- Donate to WWF to support the our work in Africa and Asia.
Over 7,100 African rhinos have been killed by poaching in the last 10 years – that's around 2 every day.What rhino species has only 2 left? ›
There are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, both female. Yet there is still hope that we can preserve their lineage. Your support today could help offer a lifeline for the world's rarest mammal.