The Southern white rhino C.s. simum was historically found in southern Africa; but again owing to hunting and poaching by the end of the 19th century the population was reduced to around 20 – 50 animals in the iMfolozi area of what is now Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. By the beginning of 2012 the South African population had increased representing just over 93% of Africa’s wild white rhino. The saving of this species is hailed as one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park accounted for an estimated 53% and 13% of South Africa’s white rhinos in 2012, respectively. The private sector has also played a major role in rhino conservation by conserving about 24% (4,520) of the national population by 2012.
Although South Africa’s white rhino have increase at an average of 6.6 % per annum from 1991-2012, this growth is under pressure from resurgent and escalating poaching of rhinos for their horns. This upsurge in poaching has coincided with soaring costs for protecting rhino, increased risks to owners and conservation staff and the rhinos themselves. Worryingly, incentives (e.g. live sale prices) for rhino conservation have been declining. If these trends continue this will threaten continued increases in numbers of rhino and extent of suitable habitat under rhino management as well as reducing funds available for field conservation action, especially by the important source populations.
Rhinos act as “flagship species” because they require large areas and significant protection measures that help to conserve a wide range of biodiversity, particularly where wildlife-based land-use systems have been established. The conservation of these rare and charismatic animals also attracts donor as well as state support, with the latter being stimulated by the national prestige of rhino conservation projects and the fact that rhinos are a major attraction for eco-tourists, in turn creating jobs and attracting important Forex, adding significant value to wildlife operations. Where markets have been established, such as in South Africa, rhinos have a high value in live sales, thus generating revenue for wildlife operations. Both black and white rhino are part of our national heritage, and also have spiritual/existence value for many people. The increased levels of poaching that have been experienced since 2008 are cause for major concern. If poaching rates continue to escalate year on year as they have been doing then this could result in numbers starting to decline in just a few years.