Diceros bicornis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Perissodactyla Rhinocerotidae

Scientific Name: Diceros bicornis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Black Rhinoceros, Hook-lipped Rhinoceros
French Rhinocéros noir
Spanish Rinoceronte Negro
Rhinoceros bicornis Linnaeus, 1758

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2abcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2011-08-06
Assessor(s): Emslie, R.
Reviewer(s): Knight, M.H. & Adcock , K.

Listed as Critically Endangered as the population of Black Rhino has declined by an estimated 97.6% since 1960 with numbers bottoming out at 2,410 in 1995, mainly as a result of poaching. Since then, numbers have been steadily increasing at a continental level with numbers doubling to 4,880 by the end of 2010. Current numbers are however still 90% lower than three generations ago.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

There are now three remaining  recognized ecotypes/subspecies of Black Rhinoceros occupying different areas of Africa. A fourth recognised subspecies D. b. longipes once ranged through the savanna zones of central-west Africa but it is now considered to have gone extinct in its last known habitats in Northern Cameroon.

The other three more numerous subspecies are found in the eastern and southern African countries. Today putative D. b. bicornis range includes Namibia, southern Angola, western Botswana, and south-western and south-eastern South Africa (up to the Kei River), although today they occur only in Namibia (the stronghold) and South Africa with a sighting of one animal in Angola and unconfirmed reports of possibly another three animals.

D. b. michaeli was distributed from southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, through Kenya into northern-central Tanzania and Rwanda. Its current stronghold is Kenya. Smaller but growing numbers occur in northern Tanzania. The single animal that survived in Rwanda has died. One important free-ranging population occurs outside its range in a private game reserve in South Africa. Contractually, these D. b. michaeli animals may only be translocated back to historical range and not elsewhere in South Africa. The repatriation of some of these animals back to former subspecies range in Tanzania commenced in 1997, with animals going to Mkomazi Game Reserve and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and the most recent being five animals moved to the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania in 2010.

D. b. minor is believed to have occurred from southern Tanzania through Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to the northern, north-western and north-eastern parts of South Africa (north of the Mtamvuna river). It also probably occurred in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Angola, eastern Botswana, Malawi, and Swaziland. Today, its stronghold is South Africa and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, with smaller numbers remaining in southern Tanzania. The South-central Black Rhino is now thought to be extinct in Angola and only one individual has been sighted in Mozambique since the 2008 IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) meeting. The subspecies has also been reintroduced to Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia.

Note: At the request of certain members, the AfRSG has a policy of not releasing detailed information on the whereabouts of all rhino populations for security reasons. For this reason, only whole countries are shaded on the map.

Countries occurrence:
Angola; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; South Africa; Tanzania, United Republic of; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Regionally extinct:
Cameroon; Chad; Rwanda
Botswana; Malawi; Swaziland; Zambia
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Throughout most of the 20th century, the Black Rhino was the most numerous of the world's rhino species which at one stage could have numbered around 850,000. Relentless hunting of the species and clearances of land for settlement and agriculture reduced numbers and by 1960 only an estimated 100,000 remained. Between 1960 and 1995, large-scale poaching caused a dramatic 98% collapse in numbers. Over this period numbers only increased in South Africa and Namibia from an estimated 630 + 300 in 1980 (Emslie and Brooks 1999) to 1,915 + 1,750, respectively by the end of 2010 (AfRSG data 2011). Continentally numbers bottomed out at only 2,410 in 1995 (Emslie and Brooks 1999).  From 1992–1995 total numbers remained relatively stable with increases in some countries (those with the best-protected and managed populations) being cancelled out by declines in others. However, since the low of 1995, Black Rhino numbers at a continental level have increased every time continental population estimates have been revised by the AfRSG reaching 4,880 by December 2010 (Emslie 2006; Emslie et al. 2007; AfRSG data 2008, 2011).

Subspecies totals as of 31 December 2010 are (see also Table 1 in the supplementary material): Southern-central Black Rhino (D. b. minor) 2,220, South-western Black Rhino (D. b. bicornis) 1,920 and Eastern Black Rhino (D. b. michaeli) 740 based on 2011 AfRSG data. In Cameroon, no evidence of the Western Black Rhino was found during extensive surveys over much of its known range during the dry season in 2006 and since then there have been no reports of either rhino sightings or spoor and this subspecies is considered extinct.

Increases in numbers have occurred in countries where  investments in conservation programmes, including monitoring and law enforcement, have been high. As with White Rhinos, four range states (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya) currently conserve the majority (96.1%) of remaining wild Black Rhino.

As of December 2005, an additional 240 Black Rhino (171 D. b. michaeli and 69 D. b. minor) occurred in captivity worldwide (Emslie et al. 2007).

For further information about this species, see 6557_Diceros_bicornis.pdf.
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Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Black Rhino occur in a wide variety of habitats from desert areas in Namibia (biceros) to wetter forested areas. The highest densities of rhinos are found in savannas on nutrient-rich soils and in succulent valley bushveld areas. Black Rhino are browsers and favour small Acacia's and other palatable woody species (Grewia's, Euphorbiacea species etc.) as well as palatable herbs and succulents. However, because of high levels of secondary plant chemicals, much woody plant browse (especially many evergreen species) in some areas is unpalatable. Failure to appreciate this, has in the past led to carrying capacities being over-estimated in some areas. Apart from plant species composition and size structure, Black Rhino carrying capacity is related to rainfall, soil nutrient status, fire histories, levels of grass interference, extent of frost and densities of other large browsers. To maintain rapid population growth rates and prevent potential habitat damage if the population overshoots carrying capacity, populations of black rhinos should be managed at densities below long term ecological carrying capacity (i.e., below zero growth densities). Surplus rhino that are removed from such established populations are routinely being profitably invested in new areas with suitable habitat and protection where populations can grow rapidly.
Generation Length (years):15-20

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Limited hunting of specific individual surplus Black Rhino males to further demographic and genetic metapopulation goals only recently sanctioned by CITES. Black Rhinos however are currently only openly sold in South Africa and in all other range states Black Rhino on communal or private land are managed on a custodianship basis for the state. Black Rhinos are primarily threatened by illegal killing for horn.

Live specimens for translocation invariably taken from natural habitat with the occasional zoo animal being reintroduced.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

The Black Rhino faces a variety of threats. The main threat is poaching for the international rhino horn trade. Rhino horn has two main uses: traditional (and more recently new non-traditional) use in Chinese medicine, and ornamental use (for example, rhino horn is a highly prized material for making ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers or Jambiyas worn in some Middle East countries). In recent years there has been an upsurge in black market prices for rhino horn which has coincided with an increase in poaching in some range states. This increase has coincided with new use of rhino horn to supposedly treat cancer (a non-traditional use) and one for which there is no supporting clinical evidence of its effectiveness. In areas where both African species co-exists, the White Rhino acts as buffer against Black Rhino poaching as White Rhinos are more likely to be poached given they are easier to find given their preference for more open habitats and the fact they cluster in small groups.

Civil unrest, the free flow of weapons and better communication systems in Africa have had a significant impact on African rhino conservation efforts. Black Rhino populations in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda have to varying degrees all suffered from the consequences of war and civil unrest since the 1960s (Emslie and Brooks 1999). The negative effects of this have been exacerbated when combined with lack of political will and lack of conservation expenditure by some governments. Some detrimental effects include trading of rhino horn and ivory for weapons, increased poaching due to increased poverty in times of civil unrest, and diminished levels of protection for rhino populations as funds are diverted away from wildlife departments. Other threats that can cause populations to decline include habitat changes, competing species and alien plant invasions.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Black Rhino have been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1977. All international commercial trade in Black Rhinos and their products have been prohibited. To help reduce illegal trade, and complement CITES international trade bans, domestic anti-trade measures and legislation were implemented in the 1990s by a number of consumer states. Effective field protection of rhino populations has been critical. Many remaining rhino are now concentrated in fenced sanctuaries, conservancies, rhino conservation areas and intensive protection zones where law enforcement effort can be concentrated at effective levels. Monitoring has also provided information to guide biological management decison-making aimed at managing rhino populations for rapid population growth. This has resulted in surplus animals being translocated to set up new populations both within and outside the species' former range. Following a decline in breeding performance in some areas, increased effort has recently been given to improving biological management with a view to increasing metapopulation growth rates. Increasing efforts are also being made to integrate local communities into conservation efforts (most notably in the Kunene region of Namibia). Strategically, Black Rhinos are now managed by a range of different stakeholders (private sector and state) in a number of countries increasing their long term security. In contrast to Southern White Rhino, most Black Rhino on privately owned land are managed on a custodianship basis for the state. Since CITES CoP13 limited sport hunting quotas have been approved of up to five surplus males annually (to further genetic and demographic conservation management goals) for the two range states with biggest populations (South Africa and Namibia). In addition to local and, national initiatives, there are a number of regional African rhino conservation initiatives: the South African Development Community (SADC) Regional Programme for Rhino Conservation, the SADC Rhino Management Group, and the Southern African Rhino and Elephant Security Group/Interpol Environmental Crime Working Group. IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group is the continental coordinating body for rhino conservation in Africa.

Citation: Emslie, R. 2012. Diceros bicornis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T6557A16980917. . Downloaded on 17 August 2018.
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