New information released on World Rhino Day 2023 (22 September) by the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) shows that global rhino numbers are up, having increased to approximately 27,000 by the end of 2022. The positive trend is primarily due to rises in the number of black and white rhinos in Africa. However, numbers of the two most threatened species – the Javan and Sumatran rhinos – are dangerously low, with fewer than 80 individuals remaining of each species.
Notably, Southern white rhino numbers have increased for the first time since 2012. The latest figures revealed an estimated 16,803 individuals across Africa at the end of 2022 (compared to 15,942 at the end of 2021) showing growth of more than 5%. This positive development provides much-needed hope for the subspecies, which has faced intense poaching pressure over the last fifteen years.
Black rhino numbers continue to increase, having risen from 6,195 at the end of 2021 to 6,487 by the end of 2022, a rise of almost 5%. Biological management interventions, such as the establishment of new populations, have resulted in higher population growth rates and an increase in rhino numbers, despite concurrent increases in poaching losses.
There were 561 rhinos killed in Africa during 2022, a rise from 501 in 2021 and 503 in 2020. Whilst these numbers remain concerning, they represent a marked decline from the peak of the crisis, when 1,349 African rhinos were poached in 2015.
In India and Nepal, numbers of the Greater one-horned rhino show a marginal rise from 4,014 in 2021 to 4,018. As with the African species, biological management is key and poaching remains a serious concern.
The status of Javan and Sumatran rhinos is increasingly perilous. Official reports estimate there are less than 80 Sumatran rhinos, though there are potentially as few as 34-47 individuals remaining. The total Javan rhino population is estimated to be 76 animals and this includes 12 individuals that have not been recorded for at least three years. All remaining Javan rhinos are found in Ujung Kulon National Park and there have been signs of a rise in illegal activities in this area. Of greatest concern are reports regarding ongoing investigations by the Government of Indonesia into a recent unnatural death of a Javan rhino. Given pressing concerns for their future, the Government, and a range of partners including NGOs, are working together to protect and recover both species.
According to Nepal’s 2021 rhino census, Chitwan National Park is home to 694 rhinos, Bardiya National Park in the west has 38, Shuklaphanta National Park, also in the west, has 17, and there are three at Parsa National Park, adjacent to Chitwan.
As with its tigers, Nepal has been successful in conserving its rhinos, achieving zero poaching for several years running now and growing the population from a low of 100 in 1966 to 752 in 2021. Translocations have been part of the conservation strategy during this period, beginning with the first batch of 13 rhinos moved from Chitwan to Bardiya in 1986.
Nepal’s rhino population has increased by 16%, according to the results of the National Rhino Count 2021—a promising sign for the greater one-horned rhino population in the country.
Greater one-horned rhinos are found only in Nepal and northeast India. Populations across their range were once down to around 200 individuals at the turn of the 20th century, but those numbers have now rebounded to a total of around 3,700 in both India and Nepal.
This year’s count spanned nearly three weeks and covered the rhino range areas within Nepal, including Chitwan National Park, Parsa National Park, Bardia National Park, and Shuklaphanta National Park along with buffer zones and vicinities outside protected areas.
Nepal takes on the immense task of counting its rhinos every five years to monitor their status in the wild. The rhino count supports the assessment of management effectiveness in these regions and guides the nation’s rhino conservation strategy.
Nepali conservationists have long pushed for the translocation of animals to take place at scale so that newly established populations survive in new habitats. Translocating two female rhinos to Koshi Tappu, where they won’t be able to breed to produce offspring, doesn’t serve a conservation purpose, they argue. Experts say that this translocation is just a start, with more rhinos set to be moved to Koshi Tappu based on how the translocated pair adapt.
Pushpa and Anjali are greater one-horned rhinos who are being moved from Chitwan National Park. The translocation of the two female rhinos is aimed at boosting the tourism potential and biodiversity of the eastern Terai Arc region that runs across southern Nepal and northern India.
The decision to translocate rhinos to Koshi Tappu National Park was made after considering their conservation value. While the national park, which has no rhinos at present, offers a suitable habitat and less human disturbance for the rhinos, the official noted. (By R.P. Narayan)