Black Rhinoceros

Conservation Status

IUCN: Critically Endangered  |  CITES: Appendix I  |  ESA: Endangered

State of the Species

  • The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), once the most numerous rhino species at an estimated 850,000 individuals, declined to less than 100,000 animals by 1960 as a result of hunting and habitat loss. From that point, a poaching-driven decline reduced populations by approximately 98% to 2,400 animals by the mid-1990s.
  • Due to sustained conservation efforts, numbers of this species increased to almost 5,000 animals in 2010, though a massive resurgence in poaching in recent years threatens this species once again.
  • As of 2010, around 96% of the total black rhino population was in four countries: South Africa (39% of total), Namibia (36%), Kenya (12%), and Zimbabwe (9%). Of the three extant subspecies of black rhino, populations of the south-western (D.b.bicornis) and southern-central (D.b.minor) are more robust at approximately 1,900 and 2,200 animals, respectively, compared to 7-800 animals of the eastern subspecies (D.b.michaeli) . The West African subspecies (D.b.longipes) was declared extinct in 2011.

AZA Member Activity

Image of Rhinoceros conservation infograph

Between 2010-2014 alone, 78 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums reported investing over $4.2 million towards rhinoceros conservation - with more than $1.5 million directly benefiting black rhinos. The AZA community supported organizations such as the International Rhino Foundation, a charity dedicated to the global conservation of rhinos through allocation of funds towards projects and species in need. In addition, for over two decades, AZA-accredited institutions have provided financial support to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, through the American Association of Zoo Keepers Bowling for Rhinos program. Lewa is home to 12% of Kenya's black rhino population, making it an integral partner to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that are dedicated to rhino conservation.

Learn more about these projects, along with other field conservation and research efforts undertaken by AZA member institutions, by visiting AZA's Conservation and Research Database. Institutions report projects and update existing projects on a yearly basis, and these data are used for AZA's Annual Report on Conservation and Science and related publications.

Primary Threats

  • The greatest threat to black rhinos is poaching to satisfy demand for traditional Chinese medicine in East Asia.
  • Demand exists in some Middle Eastern countries as well for use as traditional dagger handles.
  • A resurgence of poaching began in 2008 and has been increasing. The rhino horn trade has increasingly included involvement by organized crime syndicates, increasing the effectiveness of poaching and smuggling operations. The value of rhino horn has grown to surpass that of gold and other high-value commodities, making the incentive for poaching extremely high. As such, efforts to conserve black rhinos must include reducing the demand for horns in addition to protection of animals and their habitat in Africa.

AZA Animal Program Leaders

Rhinoceros TAG Chair:  Stephen Shurter, White Oak Conservation Center
Rhinoceros TAG Vice Chair:
  Randy Rieches, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
SSP Coordinator:
  Lisa Smith, Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History
Studbook Keeper:  Gina Ferrie, Disney's Animal Kingdom


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