Rhinos on the brink

Three rhinos, heads to water surface
White rhinos share a watering hole. South Africa is making progress in increasing its rhino population. (e2dan/Shutterstock)

The earliest rhino roamed the Earth about 9 million years before the first humanlike mammals appeared.

The average rhino outweighs the average man by more than 500 kilos.

You’d think the mighty rhinoceros would have the edge in this matchup. Not so. The global rhino population has declined nearly 95 percent since the early 20th century. Humans are by far the greatest threat.

On September 22, World Rhino Day, nongovernmental organizations, zoos, businesses and concerned individuals focus on protecting the five different rhinoceros species of Africa and Asia.

The threats

Illegal poachers are a big threat. They sell rhino body parts for bogus medicines or even hunter “trophies.” Transnational criminal gangs — even rebel militias — do the killing, which is reaching an “industrial scale,” according to wildlife watchers.

A Kenyan official displays a black rhino horn intercepted by authorities in an illegal shipment headed from Africa to Southeast Asia. (© AP Images)

In South Africa alone, poachers slew over 1,200 rhinos in 2014. Black rhinos are extinct in many of the original sub-Saharan nations where they were native as recently as 1970.

The responses

Global conservationists have begun to make some progress in countering these threats. In South Africa, they have restored the white rhino population, once fewer than 100, to some 20,000 in the wild.

Poachers reduced Africa’s black rhino population by 96 percent during the late 20th century. About 5,000 rhinos survive today. (© Images of Africa Photobank/Alamy)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) helps Africans rebuild their rhino populations, including those in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills National Park and Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park.

U.S. initiatives like Operation Crash bring criminal charges — smuggling, conspiracy, money laundering and bribery — against rhino horn traffickers.

Learn more about World Rhino Day.