Give our rhinos a lift | WWF South Africa

World Rhino Day 2016

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South Africa is home to some of the biggest populations of two of the oldest, and largest, land mammals – the black and white rhinoceros. In recent years, they have increasingly been illegally hunted and killed for their horns. If this level of poaching continues to rise it could reach unsustainable levels, threatening the future of our iconic and ancient rhinos so it is critical that we continue our successes for their conservation.

Give our rhinos a lift
©: Brent Stirton

Victims of crime

Killing rhinos and selling rhino horn is illegal. Those involved are linked to transnational organised crime syndicates – much the same as human traffickers and drug cartels – which make a lot of money from those who buy rhino horn.

© Martin Harvey

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

Legal 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. However in 2008 something changed, with annual rhino poaching deaths escalating to a high of 1,215 in 2014. Since that time, concerted efforts by dedicated teams seem to have brought the rate of increase under control, with 1,175 animals lost in 2015 - with still more work to be done.

Most rhinos live continue to roam within protected areas and game reserves in southern and eastern Africa where government, private sector, NGO and community rangers work hard to protect them from the poaching threat. 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.

Whilst these anti-poaching efforts on the ground are very important, a combined effort right along the supply chain from rhino to rhino horn consumer is required to keep our rhinos safe. If the illegal demand for rhino horn cannot be controlled allowing the death rate to exceed the birth rate, then populations will spiral into decline. 

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What is WWF doing?

WWF has been working on rhino conservation in Africa since the 1960s, in partnership with international conservation organisations and government wildlife agencies.

WWF has a scientific targeted approach to identify the most impactful projects right along the illicit supply chain for rhino horn – from working on the ground to grow rhino populations and support the empowerment of rural communities who live hear rhinos to act in ways which benefit both wildlife and people, to supporting long-term law enforcement commitment and cross-government agreements, while also changing cultural attitudes in the markets where the horn is used.

© Martin Harvey

RHINOS: We work to identify safe new rhino sites and move a group of between 15 to 20 black rhinos to create new populations where they have ample space to breed and thrive. Over a decade, ten new rhino populations have been established by translocating over 160 rhinos. More than 70 calves have been born as a result of this Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP). We also help reserves monitor and secure rhinos by supplying equipment like camera traps, motorbikes and tents for the on-site rhino staff as well as veterinary care.

PEOPLE: We work with the Southern African Wildlife College and their Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Unit in our Rural Initiative for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) 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 back to manage the rhino reserves adjacent to their community.

WILDLIFE TRADE: We work with countries in the illicit trafficking routes for rhino horn, especially Mozambique which is a key transit country for horn from South Africa where we assist with training of local law officials in how to apply new conservation laws.

We focus on getting strong partnerships with the South African government law enforcement agencies and judicial system.

Based on research into the typical rhino horn consumer, we launched an innovative and targeted behaviour campaign in Viet Nam. The Chi campaign 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 their natural heritage 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, people who may be living in remote, rural and poor conditions.


Most protected areas in Africa share borders with communities who co-exist daily, and closely, with wildlife. Many of these people were also, at some point, removed from the land in order to create protected areas. 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 to be shared among the community.

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

For future generations to benefit from rhinos, those who live closest to them must be involved in rhino conservation. Communities need to be empowered 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 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 future of cultures and people.

World Rhino Day

Started by WWF South Africa in 2010, World Rhino Day was initiated to draw attention to South Africa's rhinos as the poaching threat emerged.

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 22nd 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 for rhino horn and empower people to help protect wildlife.

Let’s give our rhinos a lift!

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