Diceros – Black rhinoceros

With 3 out of 8 subspecies have been declared extinct, illegal poaching puts these hooked upper lip rhinos in danger

The black rhino is a species that, despite its name, sports a greyish skin rather than black. This magnificent creature is distinguished from its cousin, the white rhinoceros, not just by color but by temperament and physical features. Notably, the black rhino has a reputation for being more aggressive. It is easily recognized by its pointed, prehensile upper lip, an adaptation that enables it to grasp leaves and twigs from bushes and trees – a dietary habit that contrasts with the white rhino’s preference for grazing on grass.

Historically, the black rhino was widespread across the southern and eastern African savannas, but the 20th century saw a catastrophic decline in their numbers. By the early 1990s, rampant poaching driven by the demand for rhino horn had decimated their populations from over 100,000 at the beginning of the century to a mere 2,300 individuals. This drastic reduction threatened the species with extinction and represented a significant loss of biodiversity, impacting ecosystems where they once played a critical role in shaping the landscape and supporting other species.

Efforts to reverse the decline of the black rhino have been underway for decades, focusing on increased protection through anti-poaching initiatives and improved biological management, including habitat restoration and protected areas. These concerted conservation efforts have yielded positive results, with the population recovering to around 5,000 individuals by 2020. However, the species remains critically endangered, with more than 98% of its historic range lost to human activities such as agriculture, urban development, and mining. This habitat loss has not only reduced the available space for rhinos to live and breed. Still, it has also led to a staggering loss of 69% of their mitochondrial genetic variation, which could have long-term implications for the species’ adaptability and survival.

The extinction of the West African black rhino in 2011 was a stark reminder of the vulnerability of rhinoceros populations. Today, three subspecies continue to survive, though they remain under threat from poaching, driven by the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is highly valued in traditional Asian medicine and as a status symbol.