Once one of the most widespread and numerous rhino species in the world, the global black rhino population declined by 97 percent from 1970 to 1992. The critically endangered species’ plight can be largely blamed on two major threats: poaching and habitat alteration.
Rhino poaching, which is illegal hunting, occurs largely in an effort to procure rhino horn. It’s estimated that an average of three rhinos are killed each day to feed the demand for the rhino horn on the black market. Rhino horn is used in the handles of ceremonial daggers, as well as eastern medicines even though it has no healing agents.
Most of the existing animals reside in protected parks and reserves with fenced boundaries, but enforcing laws is difficult due to the political unrest that plagues much of the black rhino’s range. The growing human population continues to present a challenge to the black rhino. Viable rhino habitats are often converted into agricultural land or altered in other ways to supply human activities. This division of land isolates rhino populations and prevents breeding.
Numerous conservation efforts are currently underway to save the black rhino. Protection of existing populations remains crucial. Translocation efforts have also been implemented to increase the black rhino’s range and establish new populations. Eco-tourism provides the opportunity for local people living within black rhino habitats to appreciate the endangered species and potentially help in protecting it.
Some African countries have implemented extreme domestic conservation measures to curb poachers. In countries like Namibia, a limited number of permits are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal hunting. It is common for the hunting permit to pertain to a specific individual, identified ahead of time. Poachers are illegally killing entire populations, but hunters are legally killing one animal. These animals are often classified as “problem animals” that are either aggressive toward or spreading disease to others in the population, are post-reproductive or at the end of their natural life span. The money made from the sale of the hunting permit will directly fund further conservation and protection of the species.
In 2017, South Africa legalized the sale of rhino horn in an effort to prevent poaching and to raise money to further fund protection and breeding of rhinos.