Rhinos are a fascinating group of animals. To tell the truth, its name is already peculiar, rhinoceros means ‘horned nose’ and refers to the large horn that it presents on its snout, which, extraordinarily, is not a bone horn but is formed of keratin like hair and nails. Despite being a great animal, all rhinoceros species are exposed to some type of threat and most of them are in danger of extinction according to the IUCN or International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Why Rhinos Are Endangered
Although the existence of the rhino family dates back millions of years, and even long before the presence of humans, their existence today is in severe danger. In fact, the rhinoceros family, scientifically known as Rhinocerotidae , consisted of a considerable number of species, which today is reduced to only five species of rhinoceros in danger of extinction . Next, we will tell you the reasons why rhinos are in danger of extinction.
- Poaching for later illegal trafficking . In some types of alternative medicine, the belief that the horn that rhinos possess is capable of curing diseases is strongly rooted, it is worth clarifying that this is not scientifically proven. In addition, its horn is highly sought after for use as an ornament. For both reasons, the hunting of rhinos is very common, despite the fact that the trade in their horn has been prohibited since 1977. Here you can read about the Causes and consequences of poaching animals and How to avoid poaching animals .
- Destruction of their habitat . Deforestation, the advance of the agricultural frontier, and urban development contribute to the loss and fragmentation of rhino habitat. In this way, the populations are isolated from each other, since there are no corridors that allow them to move. This increases the vulnerability of rhinos since they are exposed to poachers, possible run over by the young and also hinders their reproduction. To have more information about this problem you can read this other article on Destruction of the environment and habitat: causes and consequences .
- Diseases . Diseases also put rhinos at risk. Specifically, those diseases transmitted by domestic livestock that live close to rhinoceros populations, such as the java rhinoceros, which we will talk about in the next section.
- Climate change . Although rhinos are highly resilient and easily adapt to new environments, the consequences of climate change are somewhat uncertain and the small portions of rhino habitat that remain will undoubtedly be modified.
Now that you know what the main threats to rhinos are, in the next sections we will develop the five rhinoceros species that exist today and mention their conservation status.
The current distribution of the Java rhinoceros is very limited, it is reduced to the Ujung Kulon National Park which is located on the island of Java that belongs to Indonesia. The good news is that the Java rhino population is controlled and safe from poachers. However, its conservation status is delicate: according to the IUCN this species is critically endangered and, based on its reports, only 18 adult specimens remain.
The largest of all rhinos, the Indian rhinoceros was widely distributed throughout northern India and Pakistan. Currently its distribution is limited to a few geographical points in India. Its conservation status is, according to the IUCN, vulnerable to extinction and it is estimated that between 2,100 and 2,200 adult specimens remain. This is a positive fact, if we consider that its population has increased, although it continues to be in a vulnerable situation, since in 1970 there were only 600 specimens left.
The Sumatran rhinoceros, had a distribution that covered much more than the island of Sumatra, included the slopes of the Himalayas that extends through Bhutan, Nepal, China, India and Pakistan. Today, this species is found only in the forest remnants of the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The IUCN has classified it as critically endangered as there are only 30 mature specimens left. Curiously, it is the smallest of the rhinos and the only one with two horns.
The case of the white rhinoceros is really encouraging: at the beginning of the 20th century it was considered critically endangered, since there were only less than 100 specimens left. Currently, the IUCN classifies it as Near Threatened because there are more than 10,000 specimens living in the wild distributed in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
This happened thanks to successful conservation plans that were sustained for many years, which denotes that conservation programs work, they are not in vain. However, it is impossible to ignore that only 3 remain of the northern white rhinoceros subspecies, which is critically endangered .
While the black rhinoceros ( Diceros bicornis ) is classified by the IUCN as critically endangered , its populations are slowly growing thanks to fruitful conservation plans. To date, it is estimated that there are more than 3,000 adult specimens that have been distributed between Namibia, South Africa and Kenya.
This particular species has several subspecies, many of which are currently considered extinct. So if you were wondering which rhinoceros species became extinct , we can say that they were several subspecies of the black rhinoceros.