7 Alarming Facts That Prove Rhinos Still Need Our Help

May 1 is Save the Rhino Day. This is why it’s more important than ever to pay attention.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1970, that number had dropped to 70,000, and today, there are fewer than 30,000 rhinos left in the wild. That’s enough to send a chill down your spine even if you haven’t had the otherworldly experience of seeing these amazing creatures peacefully grazing in the wild. Conservationists are working around the clock to help protect these endangered animals, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, and these alarming facts prove that rhinos still desperately need our help. In case you were wondering, this is why saving the rhinos matters to us all.

95 percent of the world’s rhinoceros population has been decimated

Rhinos were nearly wiped off the face of the earth at the start of the 20th century. How did this conservation crisis come about? According to Save the Rhino, the main danger to rhino welfare has stemmed from lethal armed poachers who kill rhinos for their horns, which are prized by some cultures for their purported medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that conservationists across Africa and Asia are working nonstop to reverse the plight of the rhino. Ten years ago, says Save the Rhino, fewer than 21,000 rhinos walked the Earth, but today, rhino numbers have increased by 30 percent to more than 27,000. Take a look at these stunning photos of rhinos in the wild.

Four out of five rhino species are endangered

There are five species of rhinoceros: white, black, one-horned (or Indian), Javan, and Sumatran. White and black rhinos are native to Africa, and one-horned, Javan, and Sumatran species are found in Southeast Asia. The International Rhino Foundation shares the unfortunate news that all but the white rhino are classified as endangered and that the black, Javan, and Sumatran rhinos are all sadly listed as critically endangered, meaning that they could become extinct in just three generations. Discover 15 things you never knew about rhinos.

Only two northern white rhinos are left in the world

And they’re both female. The last male white northern rhino, named Sudan, died of natural causes in 2018. There is no bigger crisis for a species on the brink of destruction. Both remaining rhinos are being cared for and guarded 24 hours a day at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where caretakers and conservationists are working to protect these two lone ladies.

But there is a bit of promising news: Ol Pejeta is working with new IVF technology that will hopefully be able to resurrect the dwindling numbers. The conservancy says that Sudan was “a catalyst for scientists to come up with technological innovations that could potentially bring back northern white rhinos from the brink of extinction.” Additionally, these advances in IVF engineering may be used one day in preventing the extinction of other species, as well. By visiting the conservancy on a guided safari trip with Lion World Travel, guests can support the organization through the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit initiative. These endangered baby animals making a comeback will give you hope for the world.

A rhino is killed every 10 hours

Poachers never seem to rest. Across Africa, they kill several rhinos a day. And they’ve been using high-tech methods to track their prey—following the phone signals of guards, using geotracking to see where safari guests’ photos were taken, and utilizing drones and satellites—all in the quest to remove a horn from a rhino and leave it to die. But while poachers may be clever, conservationists are smarter. They have boots on the ground, as well as paws. The Singita Grumeti Fund Canine Unit uses highly trained tracker dogs as an integral part of Singita’s anti-poaching measures in the Serengeti in Tanzania. Foot patrols (with added vehicle support) are conducted around the clock, seven days a week. Units are deployed into the bush for days at a time, complete with bulletproof vests, night-vision goggles, and thermal cameras. You can even visit the Serengeti with Singita to see the black rhinos they’ve been protecting in their natural wild environment and experience an anti-poaching observation post to witness their efforts in real time.

Black rhinoceros walkingAnup Shah/Getty Images

There has been a 9,000 percent increase in rhino poaching

A decade ago, the number of rhinos killed by poachers in a single year in South Africa was just 25. In 2017, that number had grown to more than 1,000 rhinos per year, says National Geographic. In addition to increasing ground patrols to thwart poachers, conservationists are using high-tech anti-poaching tools—which are so high-tech that we were asked not to write about them so as not to tip off the poachers.

One thing we can talk about is the incredible work being done by conservation groups. For example, Wilderness Safaris’ ongoing Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project, which began in 1999 and is run in partnership with the Botswana Government and the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, has helped establish a healthy white rhino population in the Okavango. They have also coordinated several complex and delicate black rhino translocations, resulting in a viable population of this endangered species. The rhinos are constantly monitored by the Botswana Defence Force and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ specialized Anti-Poaching Unit, with the support of Wilderness Safaris’ rhino-monitoring officers. Aside from the rhino, these wild animal species are also endangered.

A subspecies of the Javan rhino has already been declared extinct

In 2010, Vietnam’s last Javan rhino was shot and killed by poachers, reports LiveScience, signaling the end of the Vietnamese mainland subspecies. Today, says the WWF, fewer than 68 Javan rhinos remain in the world, making this critically endangered rhino species one of the most threatened large mammal species on Earth. They’re confined to Ujung Kulon National Park, located on the extreme southwestern tip of the Indonesian island of Java, where the WWF supports Rhino Protection Units to safeguard the last remaining animals.

A species of Sumatran rhino is now also officially extinct

The last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, a female named Iman, died of natural causes in November 2019 at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia. Her death, says LiveScience, “marks the extinction of her species in that country and is a grim reminder of the animals’ vulnerability.” Fewer than 80 wild Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a drop of 70 percent in the last two decades. The IUCN, National Geographic Society, WWF, International Rhino Foundation, and Global Wildlife Conservation have partnered with the government of Indonesia to create the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, which aims to save the animals from complete decimation. Hopefully, these efforts keep the rhino on the planet for a long time to come. Next, see which animals have gone extinct in the last 100 years.

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Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.