IUCN - African Rhino Specialist Group



Location: All African rhino range states
Programme leaders: Mike Knight and Richard Emslie
Programme partner: IUCN SSC (World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission)
Rhino species: Black rhinos (all three subspecies) and white rhinos (both subspecies)
Rhino numbers: In total across Africa, there are 5,042-5,455 black rhinos and 19,682-21,077 white rhinos, as at 31 December 2015
Activities: research, strategy, coordination
Support: We help pay the costs of the Secretariat, in particular, the salary costs of the Scientific Officer
Funding partners: International Rhino Foundation, USFWS, WWF-ARP


Attendees at the 2011 African Rhino Specialist Group meeting in Mokhala National Park, South AfricaCredit: Save the Rhino International

The continental strategic framework for rhino conservation in Africa is provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) and its continental African Rhino Action Plan.

The AfRSG comprises a Chairman, a partially funded Scientific Officer (SO), representatives of most African rhino range states and a variety of rhino experts who operate as a network to address both strategic (e.g. government rhino policy) and implementation challenges for rhino conservation, ensuring that the best scientific knowledge is used as the basis for decision-making and field conservation programmes.

Programme managers

Dr Mike Knight (Chair); Dr Richard Emslie (Scientific Officer), Benson Okita-Ouma (Deputy Chair)


Covers all African rhino range countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland)

Species / population size

Across Africa: Critically Endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis) 5,042-5,455; Near Threatened Southern white (Ceratotherium simum simum) (19,682-21,077); Critically Endangered Northern white (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) (3, reintroduced from Dvur Kralove Zoo to Kenya). Figures correct as at 31 December 2015. Please note that individual population sizes are confidential.

Primary activity

The core work of the AfRSG Secretariat is as follows:

  • To provide CITES Secretariat and CITES Parties with the best information to make informed and balanced decisions
  • Facilitation of rhino conservation mechanism through liaison
  • To recommend best practice and capacity building of range states and their rhino programmes
  • To facilitate the spread of information on rhino-related issues amongst range states and civil society through enhanced communication and awareness activities
  • To cultivate and maintain positive donor support base
  • To assist donors in making informed and strategic decisions on project applications by others
  • To assist in minimizing illegal rhino-related activities by enabling decision makers (judiciary) to make informed decisions
  • To enhance rhino conservation through the development of rhino conservation plans, strategies and policies
  • To manage all funds within budget and time constraints, and efficient project
  • Miscellaneous

The AfRSG compiles the official continental African Rhino statistics at its two-yearly meetings and it has been mandated to supply CITES with a report on the latest African status and trends in time for its next Conference of the Parties. The AfRSG Chairman, SO or individual members can also be approached by any range state wishing technical support or advice.
Meetings attended by the 40+ members are held every two or three years, and in addition individuals or groups of members are assigned to contribute to important international, regional (e.g. the SADC Regional Programme for Rhino Conservation) and national initiatives where their expertise is required. The value of the face-to-face nature of the exchanges helps establish a sense of belonging to a serious and relevant professional peer group, which strengthens the confidence and influence of government rhino conservation managers in particular.

Monitoring and evaluation

The responsibility of the overall M&E of the AfRSG activities and outputs lies with the IUCN. The Chair is responsible for producing proceedings and recommendations for actions after each meeting and for providing the official population figures to the IUCN.

History of SRI’s involvement

SRI first started supporting the AfRSG’s Secretariat costs in 2006, in response to the invitation to SRI’s Director Cathy Dean to attend the 2006 meeting (which in turn arose out of the consultation over beneficiary projects for the EAZA Rhino Campaign 2005-6). SRI now gives annual grants to the AfRSG’s core costs, supported the costs of meetings in 2011, 2013 and 2016, and now applies and reports to USFWS on behalf of the AfRSG Secretariat for grants to cover its core costs and meeting costs. Cathy Dean was invited to become a member of the AfRSG in 2012, and has edited the proceedings from the 2011, 2013 and 2016 meetings.

Funding needs / budget etc

The AfRSG splits its funding needs into three areas: core Secretariat costs, to cover the Chair’s expenses and part-time salary of the Scientific Officer; meeting costs; and the cost of publishing Pachyderm, the technical journal that used to appear in print form, but now only online. SRI has directed its funding towards Secretariat and meeting costs.

Other funders

USFWS (via SRI), International Rhino Foundation, WWF-African Rhino Programme, SAN Parks, Endangered Wildlife Trust and the UK government.

Programme sustainability

Richard Emslie works part-time as a private consultant and so earns some income direct. The AfRSG is always likely to need external donor funding, though many members pay their own costs when attending meetings, and their own organisations contribute time and expertise.