Experts warn of decline in rhino populations

Photo credit: Steve & Ann Toon

In February 2013, rhino experts from across the globe gathered for the African Rhino Specialist Group meeting, in Kenya. The meeting provides an opportunity to collate latest rhino numbers, discuss the poaching crisis and mitigation strategies.

Rhino poaching has reached record levels in Africa and the latest figures show incredibly low population growth rates, with huge concern that overall population numbers could start to decline within two years. You can read the full press release from the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group below.

African rhinos won’t hold out for much longer, IUCN experts warn

26 February 2013 | International news release

Gland, Switzerland, 26 February 2013 – Nearly 2,400 rhinos have been poached across Africa since 2006, slowing the population growth of both African rhino species to some of the lowest levels since 1995, according to the latest facts revealed by IUCN experts.

Rhino poaching increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012, representing a loss of almost 3% of the population in 2012, according to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group. Experts predict that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, rhino populations could start to decline in less than two years’ time.

“Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn,” says Mike Knight, Chairman of the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, a group of rhino experts within IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status. High levels of consumption – especially the escalating demand in Viet Nam – threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades.”

There are currently 5,055 Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and 20,405 White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in Africa. Although these numbers have increased slightly over the last two years, there is no room for complacency. In 2012, at least 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa – the highest number in two decades – with a record 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone. In 2013, one rhino has been lost to poaching every 11 hours since the beginning of the year – a rate that is higher than the average for 2012.

Illegal trade in rhino horn is coordinated by well-organised criminal syndicates which transport the horns primarily to Viet Nam and China. Mozambique has also been identified as a key driver of poaching activities, with poachers making cross-border raids into the South African Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population. Mozambique is also a major transit point for illegal horn to Asia.

IUCN experts call upon the international community – especially the key consumer and transit states such as Viet Nam, China and Mozambique – to urgently address the crisis by strengthening and enforcing regional and international trade laws, particularly in relation to rhino horn.

“The rhino community is encouraged by the signing of a recent Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and Viet Nam to address the rhino poaching epidemic as well as other conservation issues,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, it needs to be reinforced with tangible government action on both sides. International and regional collaboration needs to be strengthened, as does sharing of information, intelligence and expertise to address wildlife crime issues.”

Updated facts on the rhino crisis come on the eve of the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that will take place from 3 to 14 March in Bangkok, Thailand. Illegal rhino horn trade will be one of the many issues discussed at the meeting.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, t +41 22 999 0346, m +41 79 856 76 26,

Notes to editors:
The IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group’s work is sponsored by US Fish and Wildlife Service, WWF African Rhino Programme, Save the Rhino International, International Rhino Foundation, the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

5 thoughts on “Experts warn of decline in rhino populations

  1. So OK Carlos in what way can we lobby aggresively the governments of Vietnam and China to name but two countires actively allowing the importation of Rhino horn and thereby supporting the poaching?
    What action is ‘Save the Rhino’ promoting to make both governments and people in Vietnam and China aware of the crime they are supporting?
    I read of several ‘jollies’ such as fund raising hikes up mountains and dinners in London. All very nice to raise some money and fun for those able to take part but where is the aggresive action you advocate.

  2. (response to the previous post) There’s pretty much nothing civilians can do to fight the poachers directly. But we can lobby for more aggressive government action, and spread consumer awareness that rhino horn has no medicinal value. And PRAY a lot that it will have an effect before everything is too late. 🙁

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