Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Conservation Status

The IUCN¹ Red List, which lists all rare species, classes the various Rhinoceros species as follows:

Black rhino - Critically Endangered
Southern white rhino - Near Threatened
Northern white rhino – Critically Endangered
Indian rhino - Critically Endangered
Javan rhino - Critically Endangered
Sumatran rhino - Critically Endangered

¹International Union for Conservation of Nature

Rhino numbers

Despite the continuing threat to rhinos from poaching for their horns, population figures have been generally increasing for species such as the Southern white rhino. Overall, however, rhino numbers have fallen dramatically from historical levels.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos; in 1970 there were 70,000; In 2010, there were roughly 27,950 rhinos surviving in the wild. Between 1970 and 1992, large-scale poaching caused a dramatic 96% collapse in numbers of the Critically Endangered black rhino. After the poaching wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s and up until the end of 2007, Southern white rhino numbers had been increasing by around 9.5% a year, and by around 6% per year for black rhinos, thanks to conservation efforts.

The following population figures for rhinos remaining in the wild are based on numbers published in 2010 by the IUCN:

Black rhino ~ 4,880
Southern white rhino ~20,170
Northern white rhino ~ 4
Indian rhino ~3,264
Javan rhino ~ 35-45
Sumatran rhino ~ 140-210

CITES* Status

According to CITES, three of the five species, the Sumatran, Javan and Black Rhino are 'Critically Endangered'. The Indian Rhino is listed as 'Endangered', while only the White Rhino has been saved from the brink of extinction due to conservation efforts. At this moment the most endangered species is the Sumatran Rhino, because of its rapid decline

In Africa, Black Rhino are listed under Appendix I. White Rhino are also listed under Appendix I except for the populations of South Africa and Swaziland which are listed under Appendix II. In Asia, the Indian, Javan and Sumatran Rhinos are all listed under Appendix I.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) is an international agreement between governments which provides varying levels of protection for species that are or may be in danger of extinction from international trade.
Appendix I includes species that are threatened with extinction and that are or may be affected by international trade. Commercial international trade in species listed on Appendix I is prohibited.
Appendix II includes species that, although not necessarily threatened with extinction, may become so unless trade is strictly regulated. Commercial international trade in Appendix II species is permitted, but is subject to strict controls.


How is the Rhinoceros classified?

Living things can be organised into different groups. Species that are alike are grouped together. This is called classification.

Class: Mammals
Order: Perrisodactyla
Family: Rhinocerotidae
              Diceros bicornis (Black Rhino)
              Cerototherium simum (White Rhino)
              Dicerorhinus sumatrensis (Sumatran Rhino)
              Rhinoceros unicornis (Indian Rhino)
              Rhinoceros sondaicus (Javan Rhino)

Rhinos are special

Today’s rhinos are the surviving members of a branch of very ancient animals, the first mammals to develop hooves. Rhinoceros belong to the group known as the perissodactyls or ‘odd-toed ungulates’ which includes horses and tapirs. The evolutionary origins of the rhino can be traced back to the Eocene Period, approximately 50 million years ago and the Sumatran rhino is thought to have the most ancient genetic lineage of the 5 present day species. Horns only became a defining feature in the latter part of the rhino’s evolutionary history.

Rhinos are characterized by their large size, all species can weigh more than a ton with the White Rhino being the second largest land mammal weighing up to 2,700 kg. All rhinos are herbivores, but some are specialised in browsing, while others are grazers. Rhinos have 1 or 2 horns, have a thick skin made of collagen arranged in a lattice structure and have a relatively small brain. Unlike other mammals of the Perissodactyla order the African Rhino species lack front teeth and rely on their lips to tear off grass or leaves while their molar teeth grind food.


Around 27,950 rhinos survive in the wild. In Africa, black and white rhinos are now restricted to eastern and southern Africa. In Asia, Indian rhinos are found in several National Parks primarily located in Nepal, India and Assam (the highest Indian rhino density in the world). Javan rhinos are found in the extreme western end of the island of Java in Ujung Kulon National Park. Sumatran rhinos are found in several scattered National Parks in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.

There have been drastic population declines due to the rhino horn trade, and rhinos are extinct in many parts of their former range.


Rhinos have evolved to survive on grassland plains, in savanna woodland, in true tropical forests and in swamps! Their thick skin provides protection against dense woody vegetation and wallowing in mud helps remove parasites as well as to keep a rhino cool.


Black, Javan and Sumatran rhinos are all browsers, feeding on young woody stems, leaves and fruit. White and Indian rhinos are grazers, although the Indian rhino sometimes also browses.

All rhinos feed most frequently in the early and latter parts of the day, finding somewhere to wallow during the hotter part of the day. The Indian rhino is known to eat aquatic plants when it visits wetland areas.



Rhinos have 1 or 2 horns, have a thick skin made of collagen, which can appear more or less like plated armour depending on the species. The rhinos of African lack front teeth and use their lips to tear off grass or leaves and their molar teeth to grind their food. Sumatran rhinos travel to the high lands during the rainy season, returning to the lowlands in the dry season.


Most rhinos are mainly solitary and males are territorial to differing extents, often marking their territory with middens of dung. Rhinos (especially Black rhinos) can appear rather ill-tempered, especially in areas where they are either hunted or regularly disturbed. While their eyesight is poor, which is probably why they will sometimes charge without apparent reason, their sense of smell and hearing are both very good. They have an extended "vocabulary" of growls, grunts, squeaks, snorts and bellows.


Rhinos live in home ranges that sometimes overlap with each other. Feeding grounds, water holes and wallows may be shared. The black rhino is usually solitary. The white rhino tends to be much more gregarious. The closest rhino relationship is between a female and her calf, lasting from 2 to 4 years. As the older calves mature, they leave their mothers and may join other females and their young, where they are tolerated for some time before living completely on their own.

In Africa, the rhino has a symbiotic relationship with ox-peckers, also called tick birds. In Swahili the tick bird is named "askari wa kifaru," meaning "the rhino's guard." The bird eats ticks it finds on the rhino and noisily warns of danger. Although the birds also eat blood from sores on the rhino's skin and thus obstruct healing, they are still tolerated.


Rhinos have a 30-50 year life span in the wild and mature around 4-7 years in females and around 10-years old for males. Pregnancy lasts 15-16 months and there is a 1-4 year interval between births depending on the species. The 63kg newborn calf relies on its mother’s milk for up to two years.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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