Renowned for their horns and formidable plates of armour, rhinos are a widely respected wild animal. Stemming from the Ancient Greek words rhīnó meaning nose and kerōsmeaning horned, this nose-horned creature is also known as the world’s armoured giant. Although the black rhino and the white rhino are the most well-known, there are five different species; the other three are the greater one-horned, the Javan and the Sumatran, all of whom live in Asia rather than Africa. Of these five rhino species, three are critically endangered, one is vulnerable and one is near threatened. World Rhino Day was founded in 2010 after being announced by WWF South Africa.
World Rhino Day 2022, September 22nd, aims to raise awareness of rhinos and the threats they face, including poaching, habitat loss, farming, illegal wildlife crime and conflict and corruption.
Black rhinos are browsers so they eat leaves and vegetation from higher up; this explains why they have a hooked lip rather than the flat-based lip of the white rhino. They are often more active at night to avoid the worst of the south and east African heat. Black rhinos are smaller than their white counterpart, standing around 1.6 metres at the shoulder. 95% of black rhinos have been lost in the last 60 years alone, and more than 1000 rangers have been killed by poaching gangs.
It is estimated that 36 years ago there were as many as 800 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild. Now, only a fraction of that number remains. Sumatran rhinos have two horns, both of which are used for pulling down plants, scraping mud in wallowing holes and protecting the head and nose when they break through dense forest vegetation in search of food. This species of rhino is thought to be the most ‘primitive’ on account of its hairy skin and prehistoric characteristics. It remains the closest living relative to the woolly rhino that resided in Europe and Asia during the Ice Age.
Greater One-Horned Rhinos are good swimmers and can dive underwater to feed. They have very distinct armour plating and, just like the black rhino, a prehensile upper lip to help them forage and feed. These rhinos are considered ‘vulnerable’ and will head towards becoming endangered if the threats they face are not eradicated soon.
The Javan Rhino
Weight: 900 – 2,300 kg
Population: ~ 75
Habitat: Tropical broadleaf forests
When the population of a species is as small as that of the Javan rhino, the threat is twofold. First, that the animal will go extinct, and second that this limited population leads to inbreeding and a loss of genetic vitality and variability. Javan rhinos have one horn and long pointed upper lips which help them grasp onto vegetation. They tend to be solitary creatures and have a gestation period of 16-19 months.
Weight: 1,800 – 2, 500 kg
Population: ~ 15,900
Home: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, Uganda
Unlike black rhinos, white rhinos are grazers. This means they also have bigger heads due to the muscles needed to support their neck when their head is lowered to feed. White rhinos have two horns and can be used against predators and to assert dominance over other rhinos. Their eyesight is poor and they can barely see 30ft in front of them, but their sense of smell and hearing are astonishing.
The poaching crisis is one of the biggest threats to rhinos, with one rhino on average being killed every 22 hours. As home to the highest rhino population, South Africa has been hit particularly hard by poaching crime. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 1,000 rhinos were killed here each year and between 2007 and 2014 there was a 9,000% increase in rhino poaching. Although the statistics are currently decreasing, 2021 still saw 451 rhinos killed in South Africa alone, 2018 saw 508 killed and the rhino population in the Kruger National Park has declined by 59% since 2013.
What Can be Done to Save the Rhino?
As well as poaching, rhinos are threatened by habitat loss. As a result of farming, economic development, logging, changes in grassland composition and agricultural advancement increase, rhino populations decrease. This decline forces the remaining rhinos to live in more isolated areas and inbreeding is more likely, damaging the genetic integrity of these wild animals.
Despite being made illegal, the demand for international trade in rhino horn has remained high and continues to drive poachers to murder and maim these critically endangered animals. Criminal gangs work together to poach rhinos and link their horn source countries with various transit points and smuggling channels to transport them to Asia which hosts the predominant markets of rhino horns, namely China and Vietnam. Here, rhino horns have become used as health supplements, hangover cures and party drugs.
Our projects that work with Rhinos are those at Kariega, Shamwari and the Wildlife Reserve programmes in South Africa. These projects have specific wildlife rehabilitation and rescue programmes and have seen many successes, making them excellent destinations for those of you looking to get hands-on with protecting these beautiful creatures.
There are a huge number of charities and organisations dedicated to protecting rhinos and caring for those that have been victims of poaching. As awareness of their vulnerability increases, organisations are working with government agencies to support law enforcement agencies, equip and train rangers to stop poachers, develop translocation efforts and prevent further habitat loss. There are also several rhino adoption and donation schemes that provide animal orphanages and key conservation organisations with funds to help protect and preserve these wild animals. These include: