Jenna Moon for the SEMAFOR
The southern white rhino population rose for the first time in more than a decade, the International Union for Conservation of Nature found, part of a wider story of progress in protecting the endangered animals. After years of poaching and habitat loss, the global rhino headcount fell to a record low of 21,000 in 2009, down from about 500,000 across Africa and Asia in the 20th century. But the figure bounced back to 27,000 rhinos across all species last year. The southern white rhino population in particular grew by 6% in 2022, with 16,800 recorded in an annual headcount. “With this good news, we can take a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade,” the head of the IUCN rhino group said.
Poaching is among the top threats to rhino populations. In 2020, however, poaching dropped by 33% in South Africa — something officials chalked up to COVID-19 lockdowns. Conservationists had expected the opposite, betting that the economic downturn from the pandemic would prompt poachers to hunt rhinos for their horns, which are used in some traditional medicines. About 1,000 rhinos were killed annually between 2013 and 2017.
South Africa has made strides in combatting poaching: The government has established tactical centers, and upped training for parks staff to discourage collusion with criminal organizations.
2 Reuters, Rhino poaching decreases as South Africa tackles threat While global rhino populations have increased, some species remain critically endangered. The Sumatran rhino, found in Indonesia, are estimated to number just 47, though some counts put the population as low as 34. Their numbers are decreasing, the International Rhino Foundation notes. Researchers are struggling to spot signs of the rhinos in the wild, but it's unclear exactly what is causing their decline — the species is not threatened by poaching, and conservationists are not finding naturally decaying carcasses.
3 The International Rhino Foundation, 2023 State of the Rhino Report
There are just two northern white rhinos left on earth. While researchers tend to tally the white rhino population together, they split northern and southern white rhinos into a subspecies. Both northern rhinos are female, and so far, efforts to breed them via sperm samples and in vitro fertilization have been unsuccessful, meaning the species could go extinct.
Scientists are collaborating on a controversial effort to save the species, and the BioRescue conservation consortium has partnered with Colossal Biosciences — a biotech firm best known for its attempt to revive the wooly mammoth — to keep northern rhinos alive via surrogacy
4 Tsavo Trust, Why is it so hard to get rhinos pregnant? 5 National Geographic, There are two northern white rhinos left on Earth. Can a controversial approach save them?
Picture Copyright: Wikimedia Commons/A. J. T. Johnsingh, WWF-India and NCF