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Culture

Rhino population increasing in Africa for first time in decade

The animals are still under threat, however, due to poaching and habitat loss

Sun CIty, South Africa: a white rhino in the Pilanesberg National Park ©  Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The African rhino population is growing for the first time in a decade, despite poaching remaining high, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced.

According to figures released ahead of World Rhino Day on Friday, there were an estimated 23,290 rhinos on the continent at the end of 2022, an increase of 5.2% from the year before.

Notably, the number of white rhinos, assessed for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2020, has grown by 5.6% and now stands at around 16,803. This is the first increase since 2012.

“With this good news, we can take a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade. However, it is imperative to further consolidate and build upon this positive development and not drop our guard,” said Dr Michael Knight, Chair of the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG).

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According to the IUCN website, the recovery is largely thanks to protection and biological management initiatives by the privately owned Platinum Rhino project, aimed at protecting and breeding the species to prevent extinction.

Earlier this year, the project was sold to the African Parks Foundation, which plans to rewild 2,000 rhinos over the coming decade.

There are five species of rhino in the world, with Africa being a home to the white and black rhinos, while the remaining three – the Sumatran, Javan and Indian rhinos – live in Asia.

Poaching remains a huge problem. According to official figures, 448 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa in 2022, with neighboring Namibia recording 93 killed rhinos. While the numbers are still concerning, they represent a significant decline from in 2015, when 1,349 African rhinos were poached.

At the beginning of the 20th century, about 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. Their numbers had dropped to just 70,000 by 1970.

Despite southern white rhinos currently thriving in protected sanctuaries, the western black rhino and northern white rhinos have recently become extinct in the wild. The only two remaining northern white rhinos are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

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