Critically Endangered Black Rhino Population Hits 1,000 in Kenya, But Work Remains to Save the Species

The black rhino population in Kenya fell to as low as 240 in the 1980s, according to the country’s wildlife service. Poaching and habitat loss were behind the near wipe out of the species within the country. However, cooperative conservation efforts over the past several decades have gotten the species on the right track. Now, they’ve reached an important milestone: a population of 1,000.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) recently shared the population update, around the same time they relocated 21 black rhinos to Loisaba Conservancy, due to the fact that the country’s 16 black rhino sanctuaries were running out of room. The move opens up more space for breeding, but the wildlife service says they’ll ultimately need more sanctuaries, complete with suitable habitat, effective security, and strong support from neighboring communities. This will hopefully get them to the population KWS says they’ll need to sustain the species against current threats: 2,000.

Black rhino walking toward camera

The gradual work toward this goal has now given Kenya the third-highest rhino population in Africa, behind only South Africa and Namibia. Going forward, Kenya plans to continue following its rhino action plan, with the goal of hitting that stable population of 2,000 by 2037.

Stable rhino populations are good not just for the species, but for their habitat, as well. Their grazing helps keep plant life in balance, which, in turn, provides important cover to other animals. Their presence is also a boon to wildlife tourism, which helps with the livelihoods of locals and helps ensure the protection of habitat for other species that also live within it.

WWF has played a role in rhino conservation efforts in Kenya since the 1960s. WWF-UK’s senior program advisor for Africa, Tanya Smith, says, “It is heartening that, thanks to conservation efforts over many years, black rhino numbers are continuing to rise in Kenya thanks to people, communities and organisations coming together to help bring this wonderful species back to life. However, their future is still not assured, and black rhinos remain critically endangered across Africa.”

Baby black rhino

Among the reasons the species is still listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List are habitat loss and poaching, as well as climate change, which has led to increased droughts.

As a result of all these challenges, one black rhino subspecies – the western black rhino, which had been found in Cameroon – was declared extinct in 2011. The subspecies dominant in Kenya is the eastern black rhino. In order to ensure they don’t suffer the same fate, conservation experts say coordination is needed between nonprofits, the private sector, and government agencies, including those across borders. Action plans and community involvement are key, as well.

African Wildlife Foundation’s Chief Scientist Dr. Philip Muruthi, who also helped develop Kenya’s national action plan for rhinos, says, “The biggest challenge remains poaching and associated trafficking, which if unmanaged threatens to undo all the progress we’ve made. Controlling poaching requires concerted efforts, including law enforcement, anti-trafficking measures, and international collaboration. At the same time, there are opportunities to expand the rhino range within protected areas, engage local communities and, the private sector, and raise awareness about the importance of rhino conservation. The importance of rhinos as ecosystem engineers and revenue generators through tourism cannot be overstated. By addressing these challenges and seizing opportunities, including innovating financing we can secure the future of rhinos in Africa.”

Mother rhinoceros with offspring

If you’d like to join the effort to help this species, here’s a list of 10 things you can do!

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