Mandla Mthembulu, a legendary game ranger from the Ndumo Game Reserve on the border between South Africa and Mozambique, told me when I was a young student in that reserve that the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis),and not the larger White Rhino, completes the ‘Big Five’. The term ‘Big Five’ was used by hunters and explores during the eighteenth century to refer to the larger dangerous beasts of Africa and included the lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo. My experiences with the Black Rhino has confirmed that they are some of the fiercest animals on this planet, charging straight at any would-be opponent, even the ones in large cars and trucks. In fact, Rhino sometimes even charge oncoming trains, where railway lines cross through game reserves.
However, despite their ferocity, the black rhino has suffered the most drastic decline in total numbers of all the rhino species during the last century – declining by 96% between 1970 and 1992. In 1970, it was estimated that there were approximately 65,000 black rhinos in Africa – but, by 1993, there were only 2,300 surviving in the wild.
Intensive anti-poaching efforts and relocation projects have had encouraging results since 1996. Numbers have been recovering and still are increasing very slowly. In South Africa the Black Rhino Range Expansion Programme has enabled the introduction of these Critically Endangered Species into new conservation areas, including community-run reserves.
However, efforts to halt the decline of the black rhino are continuously hampered by on-going poaching of these animals for their horns that are sought after in the East for traditional medicines and as status symbols. With that, their status as one of Africa’s Big Five game animals remains uncertain and a reason for concern.
To learn more and see how you can get involved click here.
Dr Roelie Kloppers
Director | Wildlands Initiatives
WILDLANDS CONSERVATION TRUST