Give our rhinos a rise | WWF South Africa


Southern Africa is home to the biggest population of the oldest, and second largest, land mammal – the rhinoceros. But in recent years, they have been illegally hunted and killed for their horns. If this drastic level of poaching continues, the iconic and ancient rhino could disappear completely.

Give our rhinos a rise
©: Brent Stirton

Victims of crime

Killing of rhinos and selling rhino horn is illegal. Those involved are part of international organised crime syndicates – much the same as human traffickers and drug cartels – who make a lot of money from those who buy rhino horn as a status symbol. And the stakes are high: up to four rhino are killed per day in South Africa to meet this ferocious demand.

© Martin Harvey

The demand to buy rhino horn – primarily as a status symbol to be gifted as a sign of respect, but also for traditional medicine – comes from South East Asia, including Viet Nam and China.

Trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977 by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. From 1990 to 2007, only around 15 rhinos were killed per year in South Africa. Then in 2008, something changed. An increase in demand from Asia caused rhino poaching to sky rocket. 83 rhino were killed that year, 122 the next. It reached 688 in 2012, and 2014’s total rhino deaths from poaching was nearly double at 1,215.

While most rhinos live within protected areas and game parks in southern Africa, these open spaces and the fences that surround them are often too large to patrol against poachers. Furthermore, many parks are understaffed or underfunded. Often poachers are poor individuals who’ve been paid a lot of money to risk their lives. And sometimes, local communities are bribed to accommodate, feed or assist with access.

In short, anti-poaching efforts on the ground are very important but they are not enough. If the illegal demand for rhino horn is not reduced, the death rate will exceed the birth rate of these endangered creatures and populations will spiral into decline. 

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What is WWF doing?

WWF has been working on rhino conservation in Africa since the 60s, together with various international groups and local conservation agencies. There have been some success stories, and some sad stories.

WWF has a targeted approach to identify the most impactful projects, working towards long-term law enforcement commitment and supporting cross-government agreements, while also changing cultural attitudes in the markets where the horn is used. WWF is also active on the ground to grow rhino populations and supports the empowerment of rural communities who live near rhinos to act in ways which benefit both wildlife and people.

© Martin Harvey

Boosting rhino numbers: We work to identify safe new rhino sites and move a herd of between 15 to 20 black rhinos so that they have ample space to breed and thrive. Over a decade, ten new rhino populations have been established by translocating over 180 rhinos. And over 60 calves have been born as a result of this Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP). These BRREP reserves have also been supported with equipment, camera traps, motorbikes and tents for the on-site rhino monitors.

Benefiting communities: We work with the Southern African Wildlife College and their Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Unit to fund and support their work within rural communities who live near to game reserves. We also sponsor the WWF Rhino Scholarship for a few students to study at the college who then take these skills into the communities where they work.

Bridging cooperation across borders: We work very closely with South Africa’s neighbouring countries, especially Mozambique which is a key transit country for trafficking horn. We’ve enabled the employment of an Illegal Wildlife Trade Senior Policy Office in the WWF Mozambique office who assists with training of local law officials in how to apply conservation law.

Breaking illegal trade networks: We focus on getting active support from the South African government law enforcement agencies and we have produced a rhino crime toolkit to assist investigators to present accurate cases in court on rhino-related crimes.

Bursting the bubble of demand in Asia: Based on research into the typical rhino horn ‘consumer’, WWF together with TRAFFIC – the wildlife trade monitoring network – launched an innovative and targeted behaviour campaign in Viet Nam. The Chi campaign – aimed at wealthy, middle-aged businessmen – was centred around powerful imagery which plays on the message that one’s power or life force (Chi) comes from within and not from a piece of horn.

© Michael Raimondo / WWF
© Sue Northam-Ras
© Robert Patterson / WWF

Who benefits from conservation?

Nature conservation is often viewed as a way of ensuring future generations get to experience the tranquil and spiritual side of our planet, and the ability to see the likes of a living rhino. But conservation can also directly benefit those people who live closest to the game parks and wildlife populations, those who are often living in remote, rural and poor conditions.


Most game parks in Africa share borders with communities who co-exist daily, and closely, with nature. Many of these people were also, at some point, removed from certain terrains in order to create protected areas or parks. Following land reform in South Africa, some communities have reclaimed land either next to, or now in, nature reserves. And as established tourism attractions, many of these bring opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as both income and employment – benefits which should be shared among the community!

We need to value rhinos – and other wildlife – alive, rather than poached.

For future generations to see a live rhino, those who live closest to them must take the lead in rhino conservation! Communities need to manage the land and its natural resources responsibly – from firewood to water, plants to wildlife. Through being custodians of nature, especially linked to animals and our spiritual heritage, communities have an enormous role to play in the prevention of rhino poaching as well as the illegal trade of rhino horn. The loss of an animal is not just the loss of life, but the loss of livelihoods and income. It is not only about the death of rhino, it’s about the long-term preservation of cultures and people.

World Rhino Day

Started by WWF South Africa in 2010, Rhino Day was initiated to draw attention to the dire plight of the rhino on the African continent as the poaching epidemic started reaching crisis levels across the country.

The following year, WWF-Zimbabwe also got involved and soon after – much like the global citizen-driven movement of Earth Hour – it became an international day of action to raise awareness for the iconic rhino.

World Rhino Day now takes place every year on 22 September and is embraced by many around the world who speak for those who have no voices. Are you for rhinos? #Iam4rhinos


Thank you

With your support, WWF has already helped to grow rhino numbers in South Africa in the space of a decade and we have put strong foundations in place to influence demand and enhance law enforcement. We have a vision to increase the rhino areas across southern Africa, and to disrupt the demand for rhino horn and reduce poaching.

Let’s give our rhinos a RISE!

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