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The rhinos are a group of large land animals weighting up to a gigantic 3 tons. They possess a small brain (400-600 g), one or two horns composed of keratin, the same substance present in nails and hair, and have unusually thick skin (1.5-5 cm) composed of collagen. This thickness allows them to defend themselves against parasites, where they also enjoy rolling around in mud to achieve the same outcome, which is why they love to find themselves near puddles of water. They are herbivorous, mostly solitary animals while few species roam in small groups mostly females.[1]

According to IUCN, there are 5 species of rhinos worldwide.[2] Among them, three of the species dwells in tropical rain forest and the other two in savannah, shrubland and grassland habitats.

[1] Treccani: https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/rinoceronte/

[2] IUCN: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/178979/1555025

The Problem

There is a range of factors which are responsible for the deteriorating trend of the rhino population.

Intensive agricultural practices, infrastructure/local population conflict (especially in India and Indonesia), both poaching, and trophy hunting (in Africa) represent the most salient threats. Besides, resource overexploitation   through hunting by using firearms and various snares, as well as deforestation which displace large populations of rhinos, and reduce the overall size of their natural habitat.[3]

They are under threat from poachers and exactly 451 rhinos have been illegally hunted in 2021 in South Africa, a worrying increase of 56 in just a year. [4]

In response to these massacres, countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and India[5] burn tons of horns every year to clearly highlight their zero-tolerance policy towards the trade of rhino parts, normally directed for use in Asia for traditional medicine.

[3] David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation: https://davidshepherd.org/rhinos/threats-to-rhinos/

[4] Save The Rhino: https://www.savetherhino.org/africa/south-africa/394-rhinos-poached-in-south-africa-during-2020/

[5] La Stampa: https://www.lastampa.it/la-zampa/altri-animali/2021/09/22/news/in-india-bruciati-2-500-corni-di-rinoceronte-sequestrati-ai-bracconieri-1.40729762/

Environmental Consequences

At present, due to the constant decline there is no adequate data on population trends for the 5 species. The number of Indian rhinoceros is currently hovering at around 3’500, while only 70 of the Java rhino remaining, less than 80 of the Sumatra rhino 80, and 5,500 and 18,000 of the black and the white rhino respectively .[6] 

rhinos are considered “ecosystem engineers” due to its huge impact in the control of grassland turf. Its diet helps to modify the landscape and the availability of resources.  Its subsequent population decrease would have huge impacts towards the balance and shape of the ecosystem.[7]

[6] IUCN: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/178979/1555025

[7] Ecologia e Comportamento Animale: https://www.libreriauniversitaria.it/ecologia-comportamento-animale-krebs-john/libro/9788833928265

Possible Solutions

The threatened rhino species could be preserved by taking several measures.

Firstly, site/area, resource and habitat protection/management would ensure that their natural movement and reproductive activities are progressing steadily.

Furthermore, the establishment of a prohibition on the horn trade is crucial for their conservation. Consequently, it’s important not to buy rhino products at local markets.

Likewise, species recovery and species re-introduction through captive/artificial breeding could be possible through the collaboration of governments and national parks.

Research on the taxonomy, population size/distribution/trends, life history as well as monitoring on habitat and population trends would be key in fighting extinction treat of various rhino species. Usage of GPS and drone technologies can also have a positive impact on tracking threatened rhino species.

Moreover, there are 182 countries in the world which signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to prevent trading of wild animals if they are under extinction threat. The Rhinocerotidae family is currently enlisted in CITES and the relevant legislation needs to be implemented. Other local and national laws to prevent poaching should be introduced.

Finally, comprehensive awareness activities through formal education, training and campaigns in social/print/electronic media would prove an effective means of education surrounding the vulnerable status of rhinos.

WSO's Activities and Initiatives

WSO Friend of the Earth project is carrying out initiatives to safeguarding threatened rhino:

  • Launched a Change.org petition.
  • Certifies and promote products from sustainable agriculture and farming.
  • Organized awareness initiative internationaly. 
  • Collaborates with Rehabilitative and Conservation Centers, providing funding to scientists from the field of conservation biology, ecology, evolution and molecular biology who are currently focusing on rhinos.

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