Black rhino expansion | WWF South Africa

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Black rhino range expansion

The critically endangered black rhino is a flagship species for creating larger blocks of land for conservation purposes, resulting in wider protection of other wildlife too. Alas, in the face of the poaching epidemic, there is no single solution or quick fix to the current rate at which our rhino are being wiped out.

What is the issue?

In the 1960s, an estimated 65 000 black rhino were found across Africa. But a devastating poaching crisis hit the continent, reducing these mighty animals to about 2 000 remaining in the 1990s.

Comparatively, white rhino were also heavily poached to levels around 20 000 animals, putting their species as ‘’threatened’’ alongside the ‘’critically endangered’’ black rhino on the brink of extinction.

From 1990 to 2007 around 15 rhinos were killed per year in South Africa. In 2008, something changed with annual rhino poaching deaths escalating to 1215 in 2014, 1 175 in 2015 and 1 054 in 2016. Yet legal trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977 by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

Thanks to intensive protection in recent years, that number is slowly increasing. There are now approximately 5 000 black rhino. But poaching remains an ever-present threat.

What are we doing?

As part of a long term strategy, WWF runs the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) to increase numbers of the critically endangered black rhino as well as relocating groups to new protected areas. 

​Who do we work with?

We work with local conservation agencies in the relevant provinces as well as identifying and liaising with potential landowners who could provide land for a group of relocated rhino to establish and breed.

We also work with the Southern African Wildlife College to ensure that people from communities around protected areas can be trained in game ranging and skilled in how to care for wildlife, especially rhino. 

How do we do this?

WWF facilitates partnerships with landowners who have good black rhino habitat for creating new breeding populations. This often involves encouraging neighbouring landowners to remove the internal fences between them.

Involving vets, rhino handlers and helicopters, WWF then coordinates the intricate planning and operation of moving these large creatures to their new home. A relocated group consists of about 20 rhinos.

As well as establishing these new breeding groups, the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project supports the security of black rhino source populations. We do this by providing equipment for anti-poaching work and paying for people from local communities to be employed as rhino monitors as well as buying light aircraft for aerial surveillance and paying for helicopter hours when vets go out to treat snared black rhino.

​How did it start?

WWF has been involved with conserving the iconic African rhino, both black and white, since the 1960s. With great foresight in 2003, WWF started BRREP as a breeding project which has become a habitat expansion and establishment of new groups of these the critically endangered creatures. 

What are the big wins?

  • 11 new rhino populations have been relocated to create new breeding populations across KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. These 11 sites total 200 000 hectares of black rhino conducive habitat. 
  • Since the project started in 2003, over 90 black rhino calves have been born on project sites. 
  • In 2007, the first community-owned game reserve received a group of black rhino from WWF’s breeding project. 
  • 2017 marked the first year that calves born during the project have been used to start new populations.