The rhinoceros (of the family Rhinocerotidae) is a magnificent creature: big, powerful, and charismatic. Unfortunately, these same qualities make them popular targets; rhino horn is in high demand on the global black market. Rhino horns are used in Asian medicines, which are sold to consumers who believe these animal products can be used to treat fever, rheumatism, and gout, or even to cure cancer. Rhino horns are also carved for dagger handles as a coveted status symbol in the Middle East. The illegal trade in animal parts is a profitable business and the demand for these products creates an ongoing temptation for poachers. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies rhinos in its Red List of Threatened Species from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened.
Wild rhinos can still be found in parts of Asia and Africa, but they live in small fragmented populations which may not be viable (due to lack of breeding opportunities and risk of random events or disease). Sumatran rhinos have decreased by 50 percent in the past 18 years leaving fewer than 200 surviving, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia.Before 1900, black rhinos occurred throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, but between 1970 and 1992, rhino populations declined 96%. Black rhinos went extinct in many range states, and by 1992, only 2,300 individuals survived in seven countries.
But while rhinos continue to be killed for their horns, increased security and greater anti-poaching efforts have led to increases in some populations over the past decade. Recovery of Africa’s white rhino demonstrates the benefits of strong law enforcement and conservation management. Decimated by hunting, white rhinos nearly became extinct with only about 100 surviving in the wild. Now, with good protection and successful management, the subspecies has increased to more than 20,000 and is the most abundant of all rhinos.
And in Chitwan, Nepal, rhino poaching has dropped to zero for the past year, and the population of rhinos has risen in Assam, India, over the past decade. However, it is important for the world community to remain vigilant as the threats to rhinos from poaching and illegal trade are still significant and increasing in some places such as southern Africa.
Laws & Regulations
All five species of rhinos are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an agreement among 175 nations to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is the federal agency responsible for the U.S. Government’s implementation of CITES.
All five species of rhinos surviving in the wild today are also endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service), through the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act, supports conservation efforts of rhinos in its range countries. This legislation, passed in 1994, established the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, which provides funding and technical assistance to support anti-poaching measures, resource management, research, and education.