Rhino numbers in Africa rose last year, the first bit of “good news” in a decade for an animal facing extinction due to, among other things, rampant poaching.
The figure on the continent stood at 23,000 by the end of last year. This is an increase of 5.2% compared to a year before, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.
“With this good news, we can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade,” says Michael Knight, a wildlife ecologist and chairman of the IUCN’s African Rhino Specialist Group.
The IUCN combines rhino estimates from several countries to determine the continent’s total and says a “combination of protection and biological management initiatives” has led to a 4.2% increase in the number of black rhinos. This figure now stands at 6,487.
White rhinos have increased by 5.6% and now stand at 16,803 – the first increase since 2012, says the IUCN.
“It is indispensable to further consolidate the positive development and build on it and not relax our vigilance,” says Knight.
Rhinos have been slaughtered in decades of poaching driven by demand from Asia, where horns are used in traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic value.
More than 550 rhinos were poached in Africa last year, most of them in South Africa, says the IUCN.
South Africa is home to almost 80% of the world’s rhino population. Poaching has increasingly begun to target private reserves in the search for rhino horn, which is highly sought after on the black market. The price of rhino horn is on the same scale as that of gold and cocaine and is sold at an estimated $60 000 (about R1.1 million) per kilogram.