Rhino population figures

(c) SRI

Rhinos once roamed in their millions across large swathes of Asia and Africa. The first period of decline was caused by wholesale Colonial-era hunting and habitat loss as land was increasingly turned to agriculture and urban development.

At the end of 2015, conservationists' best estimates were that around 30,000 rhinos (all five species) survive in the wild.

African rhinos

Large-scale poaching of the now Critically Endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96% decline from c. 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995. Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programmes across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals. Importantly, their geographic range has also increased, with successful reintroduction programmes repopulating areas that had previously seen their native black rhinos entirely poached out in the 1970s and 80s.

The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. With numbers as low as 50-100 left in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085 and become the most populous of all the rhino species. Its status on the IUCN Red List is now Near Threatened.

Asian rhinos

The fortunes of Asian rhino species throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries were mixed but, encouragingly, all the species are growing in population size to varying degrees.

Greater one-horned rhinos have made a startling comeback from the brink of extinction. By 1900, fewer than 200 animals remained, but the species now numbers more than 3,550 individuals due to concerted conservation efforts in both India and Nepal; their remaining strongholds. Although poaching remains a high threat, particularly in Kaziranga National Park, the stronghold of the species, the need to expand their habitat to provide space for the growing population is a key priority. Greater one-horned rhinos are now classed as “Vulnerable”.

In Indonesia, the populations of Sumatran and Javan rhinos are extremely low and both species are listed as “Critically Endangered”. There are now only <80 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, and efforts are now being invested in captive breeding in an attempt to boost the population. Historically, poaching had depleted the population but their biggest threat today is habitat loss – including forest destruction for palm oil and paper pulp – and increasingly, small, fragmented populations failing to breed.

The Javan story is even more shocking, with an estimated 67 animals left in a single population in Ujung Kulon National Park, leaving them vulnerable to natural disasters and disease. Numbers of Javan rhinos have increased during the last few years, thanks to the expansion of the habitat available for them into neighbouring Gunung Honje National Park, with images of several calves caught on camera traps. Local conservationists, supported by Save the Rhino, are working hard to increase the habitat for this species, with the long-term aim of establishing a second population at a separate location.

 Rhino population figures at the end of 2015

Rhino population figures are compiled and published by the African Rhino Specialist Group, whose figures are reported to CITES, the international treaty regulating the trade in wildlife parts, and which was responsible for banning the international rhino horn trade in 1977.

The figures below are reported with 90% confidence levels for the end of 2015, based on rhino monitoring surveys and other quantitative data collected by conservationists.

Rhino species Population
White rhino

Between 19,666 and 21,085

Black rhino

Between 5,040 and 5,458
Greater one-horned rhino 3,500+
Sumatran rhino c. 100
Javan rhino 61-63

How close are we to a “tipping point”?

The resurgent poaching crisis since 2008 has threatened to undo all the fantastic gains made rhino conservation during the last two decades. Importantly, however, global rhino numbers are still – overall – increasing and not declining, so we have not yet reached a “tipping point”, where the numbers of rhino births are outweighed by poaching losses and other mortalities. This tipping point, however, does loom close.

Prior to 2015, the last time rhino numbers were collated and published by the African Rhino Specialist Group, was in 2012. What difference does five years make? In 2012 evidence suggested 29,000 wild rhinos were living across Asia and Africa. At the end of 2015, this figure has risen to 30,000.

  • The Southern white rhino population is fractionally down (-0.4% per year) since 2012
  • The black rhino is, slightly, on the up, showing a growth of +2.9% per year
  • In Asia, all three species have increased in population size to varying degrees, most notably in the case of the Greater one-horned rhino
  • In 2012, fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos were living in Indonesia, and between 58-61 Javan rhinos were estimated to remain in Java. The births of male Sumatran rhino calf Andatu in 2012 and female calf Delila in 2015 are therefore hugely significant