The International Rhino Foundation Releases 2022 State of the RhinoSeptember 20, 2022
Washington, DC – The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) published its signature report, State of the Rhino, which documents current population estimates and trends, where available, as well as key challenges and conservation developments for the five surviving rhino species in Africa and Asia.
“As has been the case in recent years, the overall population of the world’s five rhino species has again declined, standing at just over 26,000 now,” said Nina Fascione, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation. “This is a very troubling trend, of course, but fortunately, it’s not all bad news.”
The Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) announced that the greater one-horned rhino, found only in India, Nepal and Bhutan, has increased to 4,014 individuals after a biannual survey was completed in early 2022. The population is growing largely due to the governments of India and Nepal creating habitat for rhinos, while also preventing poaching.
Poaching remains a threat, but authorities in India have had great success in significantly reducing poaching, through intense security and strict enforcement of wildlife crime laws. In 2021, there was only one recorded poaching incident. There has been only one recorded incident in the first half of 2022 as well.
Decline in Africa’s White Rhino Population
The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) released a report in 2022,The African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade, which estimates there are currently 22,137 rhinos in Africa: 6,195 black rhinos and 15,942 white rhinos. The overall number has decreased 6%, from 23,562, since the last Specialist Group report in 2017.
Poaching remains the greatest threat to African rhinos. Since 2017, there have been 2,707 recorded rhino poaching incidents in Africa, 90% of which took place in South Africa. During 2020, when governments implemented COVID mitigation measures, including lockdowns, there was a significant reduction in poaching – from 3.9% of the continental population in 2018 to 2.3% in 2021. Now that travel has reopened, poaching is on the rise again.
White rhinos are decreasing primarily due to poaching losses. The population has decreased by almost 12% in the last four years, from an estimated 18,067 to fewer than 16,000 today. “Because they are more numerous and because of their more social nature, white rhinos are particularly hard hit by poaching,” said Fascione.
Africa’s other species, the black rhino, suffered a drastic decline at the end of the 20th century. Between 1970 and 1993, the population of black rhinos decreased by 96% from approximately 65,000 to only 2,300 surviving in the wild. Since 1996, intense anti-poaching efforts and strategic translocations to safer areas have allowed the species to slowly recover. Poaching still looms as the greatest threat.
“IRF was founded 30 years ago based on concerns over this decline, but there is good news today for the black rhino in Africa,” said Fascione. The AfRSG estimates a 12% growth in black rhino populations in recent years, from approximately 5,495 individuals in 2017 to more than 6,000 today.
South Africa accounts for about half of the total black rhino population and is also home to most of the world’s white rhinos. Again, poaching is decimating populations, 259 rhinos have been poached for their horns in the first six months of 2022, ten more than were poached during the same time frame last year. Kruger National Park, which is home to the largest population of rhinos in the world, has reported 82 rhinos poached this year.
13% Decline in Sumatran Rhino Populations
Indonesia is home to two of the five remaining rhino species – the Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino.
Fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos survive in small populations in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser and Way Kambas National Parks (both located on the island of Sumatra) and a few isolated animals inhabit central Kalimantan. While the government’s official estimate is fewer than 80 individuals, a recent joint report from Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG), African Rhino Specialist Group and TRAFFIC estimated the Sumatran Rhino population at 34-47, based on internal assessment carried out by AsRSG through its members.
This population estimate would indicate a decline of 13% between 2017-2021. “Because so few Sumatran rhinos remain, and because those few surviving animals have increasingly moved into more remote areas to avoid human disturbance, it is extremely difficult to track Sumatran rhinos and to accurately estimate the population,” said Fascione. “This lack of data further complicates efforts to protect and conserve the species.”
Living in fragmented rainforest habitats makes it difficult for breeding-age animals to encounter one another. And, as in other rhino species, reproductive problems usually ensue if females do not become pregnant. The Government of Indonesia and rhino experts from around the world have agreed that the only way to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction is to consolidate the widely dispersed, fragmented wild populations into managed breeding facilities under an emergency action plan.
In May, the Indonesian Institut Pertanian Bogor University (IPB University) and the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a new collaborative strategy for advancing future scientific and educational solutions to local and global sustainability and biodiversity conservation challenges.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) estimates Indonesia’s other species, the Javan rhino, population at 76 individuals in 2022, a small increase over last year’s 75, with one birth and no deaths reported so far this year.
Javan rhinos are found only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP), where ten years ago there were fewer than 50 Javan rhinos. The rhino population has gradually increased, with at least one new calf recorded every year since 2012.
Javan rhinos face increased threats from human encroachment in UKNP and officials are concerned that this could lead to poaching incidents. The population is also threatened by limited habitat and potential natural disasters. IRF is working with the Indonesian Government, park officials and local partners to increase the amount of suitable habitat available for Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon so their population can continue to grow.
An Estimated 1,000 Rhino Horns Traded Each Year
Illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest global criminal activity, estimated at between $7 and $23 billion per year. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates from available data that nearly 1,000 rhino horns are illegally traded each year. The majority of seizures occurred in places other than where the rhinos were poached.
“Rhinos continue to face many threats from poaching, habitat loss, encroachment by people and fragmented populations that inhibit breeding,” said Fascione. IRF recommends the following priorities for all five species in order to combat these pressures:
- Remain vigilant with anti-poaching activities, or “boots on the ground,” to meet the challenge of increased poaching.
- Work with local communities to ensure they are active participants in wildlife conservation and receive economic incentives that improve livelihoods.
- Improve enforcement of wildlife crime laws and international treaties by range and consumer country governments.
- Foster more effective international collaboration in investigations to address the entire illegal wildlife product supply chain.
- Continue to restore and improve rhino habitats and return rhinos to their former ranges.
- Support the activities of governments, people and organizations making a difference for rhinos.
Through grants and field programs, IRF has funded rhino conservation efforts in ten countries in its 31-year history, focusing on scientific research, anti-poaching, habitat and population management, conservation breeding, community support, wildlife crime investigation, legal training and support to fight illegal wildlife trade, environmental education and demand reduction. Over the past decade alone, IRF has invested more than $20 million in rhino conservation and research.
The full report is available at https://rhinos.org/about-rhinos/state-of-the-rhino/. IRF will celebrate World Rhino Day on September 22 with a variety of events. More information is available at https://rhinos.org/world-rhino-day/.