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White Rhino mother and calf

Without a doubt, one of the most magnificent and imposing figures of the natural world is the Rhinoceros. As such, they have long been revered by local tribesman to intrepid explorers, many a tale has been told where the impressive Rhinoceros takes centre stage. They are unlike anything else, and first impressions often tie a link back to some of the dinosaurs that once roamed the planet, like Triceratops – the enormous plant-eater from the late Cretaceous period (roughly 68 million years ago).

Currently, there are five recognised species of Rhinoceros, which are all found in Africa and Asia. Two species – the Black and White Rhinoceros, are confined to the African bush and savanna zones; while the other three – Indian, Javan and Sumatran, all occur on the Asian continent and are generally found in wetter environs, with the latter two preferring areas of denser forest. Once commonly found throughout their habitat of choice, every single Rhinoceros species is severely threatened.

The White Rhinoceros, currently the most numerous of all the species, was once on the brink of extinction at the turn of the 1900’s. Some magnificent work in South Africa saw them recover exceptionally well; however, the current surge in popularity of Rhino horn is threatening this, and all other species with extinction once again. It is out in East Asia, and primarily in Vietnam, where the largest market for rhino horn exists. Here, people grind up the horns and consume them, believing the dust has therapeutic properties. However, the horns are nothing much more than keratin, the same type of protein that produces hair and fingernails.

The most threatened species at the moment is the Javan Rhinoceros – a species that used to occupy much of the Indian subcontinent, Malaysian peninsula and Sumatra. Tragically, humans have entirely eliminated this species from all of these areas, largely for the trade in Rhino horn. This species is now completely confined to the Indonesian island of Java, where the last 60 odd occur in Ujung Kulon National Park. The Sumatran Rhinoceros is only in slightly better shape, numbering no more than 100 individuals in the wild. This species once occupied most of the lowland rainforest areas on Sumatra, Borneo and the Malaysian peninsula; however, they now are extinct on the peninsula, probably number less than twenty individuals on Borneo and are just about clinging on in Sumatra. The situation is sadly dire, and the outlook for these two forest Rhinos is bleak. The large armour-plated Indian Rhinoceros is also severely threatened. This species once ranged across much of the Indian subcontinent, from Pakistan to Myanmar. These days it is largely confined to NE India’s Kaziranga National Park, where more than two-thirds of the population survive. 

Widely regarded as having the worst temperament of all the species, the Black Rhinoceros is one species that you don’t want to come face to face with while walking on foot through the African bush! Even vehicles aren’t safe, and there are many stories of folks that have had an angry Black Rhino charge a car. This species has also seen a catastrophic decline in numbers, and the West African subspecies was officially declared extinct in 2011. Even as recently as the 1960’s, there were an estimated 70,000 Black Rhino on the African continent. Compare that to the current population of 5,000 odd now, and it is clear that it has been a very quick and devastating crash. Three of the species (Black, Javan and Sumatran) are all listed as critically endangered.

Thankfully, there are still many organisations and individuals that are doing a lot of hard work to try and protect the various Rhino species across the globe. National Parks such as Etosha, Kruger and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi in Africa, as well as Kaziranga in India, still hold good numbers – but for how much longer one cannot be sure. Rockjumper’s founder – Adam Riley, has an interest in a protected area known as Manyoni Game Reserve in northern Zululand, where both Black and White Rhinoceros occur at high density. There is a strong conservation ethic in this part of South Africa, and much has been done over the years to save both species. We also feature this incredible reserve on our South Africa tours, where chances of seeing both African Rhino species are very good, in addition to other signature species such as Lion, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Leopard, African Buffalo and African Elephant.

One of Rockjumper’s sister companies – Oryx Photographic Expeditions, is also heavily involved with Rhinos Without Borders, an organisation that is working on relocating Rhinos from heavily poached areas in South Africa to massive tracts of protected wilderness in Botswana, where poaching levels are much lower.

Rockjumper Wildlife Tours feature a number of trips where you stand an excellent chance of seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild. Contact us today for more information on our expertly guided, value for money wildlife safaris.

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