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While around 18,000 new animal, insect or plant species are discovered yearly, other species are on the edge of extinction — including some that are newly discovered and others that have been around in some form for million of years. The African continent alone has more than four large mammals whose populations are, for the most part, declining at a worrisome pace. They include the gorilla, elephant, lion and rhino. The latter three are particularly in danger due to illegal poaching, with byproducts typically being exported for medicinal or other consumer use — part of a multi-billion dollar industry.

Here are some hard statistics on the rhino, with additional numbers on the elephant, and lion. Non-African species have occasionally been mentioned for comparison. While the two African rhino species are not on the IUCN Red List (the world’s most endangered species list), their three Asian rhino species cousins are. There are also nearly a dozen other species on the Red List top 100 whose habitats are on the African continent, including the islands of Madagascar and Mauritius.

9 Conservation Status Categories for Species

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) 2013 report lists 9 conservation categories for a total of 70,294 species that have been assessed to date.

  1. 799 — Number of Extinct (EX) species (this only includes those species in the full assessment; not for all time).
  2. 61 — Number of Extinct in the Wild (EW) species.
  3. 4,227 — Number of Critically Endangered (CR) species. These are species facing an “extremely high risk” of extinction in the wild.
  4. 6,243 — Number of Endangered (EN) species — those facing “very high risk” of extinction in the wild.
  5. 10,464 — Number of Vulnerable (VU) species — those facing “high risk” of extinction in the wild.
  6. 4,742 — Number of Near Threatened (NT) species.
  7. 241 — Number of Lower Risk species.
  8. 31,846 — Number of Least Concern (LS) species.
  9. 11,671 — Number of Data Deficient species.

Category 7 is being phased out. Species that are in categories 3-5 are considered “threatened”. I.e., are at the threat of extinction. There are 20,934 species — nearly 30% of all species assessed so far — that fall into these three categories, which includes the African elephant and African lion (both listed as Vulnerable), and the Asian cousins of the African rhino. While the species in this article are in danger due to illegal poaching, other species are in danger due to deforestation or loss or fragmentation of their habitat.

The IUCN Red List vs the U.S. Endangered Species Act List

The IUCN top-100 most endangered species list highlights species that are perceived to have little or no value to human beings and thus likely not to be saved from extinction. This top 100 is selection of the full Red List, which the WWF numbers at 16,118 at the time of this writing.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) list is created by the United States and signed in to law by then-president Richard M. Nixon on Dec 28, 1973. It lists species into two categories (Endangered and Threatened) that fall under the protection of this act both locally and globally. For example, the Southern white rhino (Africa) was added to the list in 2013, and the African lion is under consideration. While there is species overlap between the IUCN Red List and the ESA list, they are not the same. For example, a late 2011 study comparing the lists found that over 500 American species on the Red List are not on the ESA list.

  • 40 — Age of the ESA law, as of Dec 2013.
  • 1.59+ — Number of billions of dollars of ESA-related expenses for 2011.
  • 26 — Number of species listed on the ESA that recovered and were removed from the list.
  • 205 — Number of species as of Jun 1, 2013 that are candidates for ESA listing.
  • 619 — Number of ESA-protected species whose habitat is outside the USA.
  • 2,110 — Number of species protected by the ESA as of late Sep 2013. You can find updated species totals (U.S. and elsewhere) on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service web site [].

The Financial Motivations for Poaching

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have pointed out that much of the poaching of rhinos and elephants for horn and tusks, respectively, is due to organized crime. This activity causes a national and economic security issue since the poaching also affects tourists in the short-term and tourism revenue in the long-term. In 2012, Clinton called for a global strategy for regional wildlife enforcement to reduce illegal wildlife trade, and the State Department pledged $100,000.

President Obama took a cue from Clinton’s call-to-action and issued an executive order in July 2013 for spending $10M towards increasing anti-poaching efforts — money that will be distributed to efforts in South Africa, Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. According to a Clinton quote at, the U.S. “is the second-largest destination market for illegally trafficked wildlife in the world.”

  • 29,500+ — The number of dollars per pound that rhino horn can sell for ($65,000 per kilogram). This is more than gold and cocaine.
  • 1,000-1300 — Number of dollars per pound for elephant tusk.
  • 8-10 — Number of billions of dollars that the illegal horn and ivory trade generates worldwide yearly.
  • 94 — Number of millions of dollars that illegally-auctioned ivory fetched in 2011.
  • 100+ — Percentage increase in ivory auction earnings over 2010.
  • 200 — Percentage increase (tripled) in the price of ivory between 2006-2011. (In some regions, the price increase in the last four years is said to be as high as 1500%.)

Rhinos: The Numbers

Sep 22, is World Rhino Day — an event that started in 2011 after an announcement by WWF-South Africa in 2010. The theme is “5 rhino species forever.” Of the five remaining species of rhino left on earth, two are critically endangered and the rest have teetered on the brink of extinction. By protecting rhinos (and elephants), other in-danger species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects and plants will be protected as well.

General Facts

  • 3 – Number of years World Rhino Day has been running as of Sep 22, 2013.
  • 50 — Number of millions of years that rhino have been around.
  • 5 — Number of species of rhino (including sub-species).
  • 2 — Number of species that are currently critically endangered.
  • 5 — Number of rhino species protected under the ESA (Endangered Species Act). The Southern white rhino was added in early Sep 2013, thanks to the USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service).
  • 2 – Number of sub-species of rhino that have been declared extinct in this decade. They are the Vietnamese Javan rhino and the Western black rhino.
  • 11 — Number of subspecies (under the 5 main species) surviving.
  • North America, Europe, Africa and Asia once had other rhino species, now extinct. An example is the wooly rhino, which lived from 350,00 years ago up until around 10,000 years ago. Habitat included N. Europe, E. Asia (especially Russia), and N. America. They often lived near wooly mammoths.
  • 2 — Number of species of African rhino (not including sub-species).
  • 30 — Rhino top speed in miles per hour
  • 35-40 — Lifespan of a black rhino.
  • 16 — Number of months of gestation period.
  • 0 — Number of natural predators rhino have, other than man.


  • 1975 — Year of first international ban on commercial trade of rhino products.
  • 200 — Number in thousands of dollars that a single rhino horn can make the seller.
  • 66-75 — Percentage range of world’s rhinos living in South Africa, where most poaching is occurring.
  • 3,000 — Percentage increase in rhino poaching between 2007-2011.
  • 333 — Number of illegally poached rhinos killed in South Africa in 2010.
  • 448 — Number poached in 2011.
  • 668 — Number poached in 2012 — a record year.
  • 663 — Number of poached rhinos (as of Sep 19 of 2013).
  • 100 — Percent probability that the rhino poaching tally for 2013 will be higher than 2012, given that rhinos are now poached at a rate of roughly eighteen per week.
  • 900-1000 — Estimated number of rhinos that will be killed by the end of 2013 in South Africa.
  • >18 — Average number of rhinos poached weekly in South Africa in 2013 as of Mar 14, 2013 — an increase of >3 per week from the period Jan 1 – Mar 13, 2013, despite a move by the South African government to announce legal international trade in rhino horn.
  • 36,237 — Number of pounds in weight of stockpiled rhino horn in South Africa.
  • 280 — Number of poached rhino just in South Africa’s Kruger National Park (as of Jun 26, 2013).
  • 267 — Number of arrests in 2012 for poaching rhinos in South Africa
  • 148 — Number of arrests for 2013 (as of Aug 7, 2013)
  • 219 — Number arrests in South Africa of suspected poachers as of Sep 21, 2013.
  • 79 — Number of arrests for Kruger National Park poaching alone.
  • South Africa rhino poaching arrests breakdown for recent years: 2010 = 165 arrests; 2011 = 232; 2012 = 267; 2013 = 219 (at the time of writing).

African Rhino Populations

  • 500,000 — Number of rhinos in Africa and Asia at the start of the 20th century.
  • 70,000 — Number of rhinos in Africa by 1970.
  • 29,000 — Approximate number in the wild today.
  • 95 — Percentage of world’s rhinos lost in the last 40 years.
  • 93 — Percentage of African rhinos (collectively) that live in South Africa.
  • 20,409 — Number of white rhino in total. This includes 17,500-18,000 Southern white rhino — a number that was down as low as 50-200 before the start of a conservation program — and 4 Northern white rhino.
  • 50 — Estimated number of white rhino in the wild in early 1990s.
  • 5 — Number of countries where most white rhino live/ have been reintroduced: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland.
  • 3 — Number of countries that the Southern white rhino lives in: Kenya, Zambia, Cote d’Ivoire.
  • 4,880-5,055 — Number of Black rhino (Africa) all sub-species — a number that was down to 2,400 in the early 1990s. The current estimate includes 799 Eastern black rhinos, 1957 South Western black rhinos, and 2299 South Central black rhinos.
  • 96 — Percentage decline of black rhino from (65,000 in 1970 to 2,300 in 1993).
  • 97.6 — Percentage population decline in black rhino since 1960.
  • 98 — Percentage of black rhino living in four countries, collectively: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya.
  • 40 — Percentage of that concentrated black rhino population that are in South Africa.

Asian Rhino Populations

For comparison, here are some stats on the three primary Asian rhino species.

  • 2850-3,333 — Number of Greater one-horned rhino (India, Nepal). Once down to 200.
  • < 100 — Number of of Sumatran rhinos (Sumatra) — Considered critically endangered.
  • 35-45 — Number of of Javan rhinos (Java). Critically endangered. Declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011 and is currently the rarest mammal on earth.

African Elephants

The biggest markets for African elephant tusks are China and Thailand, though they are not the only markets. What’s just as troubling as the slaughter of this endangered animal is that the money from the trade is sometimes used to purchase weapons that fuel political strife as well as murder park rangers. It’s not just poachers on the ground now. One group of poachers killed a family of eleven elephants in early Jan 2013 using machine guns from a helicopter — an occurrence that’s growing in number.

  • Aug 12 — World Elephant Day
  • 60-70 — Years of lifespan
  • 22 — Months of gestation
  • 0 — Number of predators, other than humans
  • Sep 22 — Elephant Appreciation Day (same day as World Rhino Day) — started in 1996.
  • 1.3 — Number of millions of African elephants in the wild in 1979.
  • 37 — Number of African countries to which the African elephant is native.
  • 400-470 — Number of thousands of African elephants left in the wild.
  • 36-51 — Number of thousands of Asian elephants in the wild circa 2008, compared to 200K at the start of the 20th century (1901).
  • 25-35 — Estimated number in thousands of African elephants killed annually for ivory demands.
  • 8 — Percentage of African elephant population poached each year.
  • 75 — Percentage of elephants in Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park that were killed before the 1989 international trade ban on ivory.
  • 20+ — Number of years that it can take for an elephant family that have lost its kin to poaching to recover and “build new social relationships,” according to a National Geographic article referencing a University of Washington research paper.
  • 17 — Number of tons of ivory that Kenya has burned in two events (1989 = 12 tons; 2011 = 5 tons). The 1989 event led to an international ivory trade ban.
  • 9.5 — Zambia, 1992
  • 4.8 — Gabon, 2012
  • 5 — Phillipines, Jun 21, 2013 — destroyed. The Philippines was the first country to destroy their ivory stockpile instead of just burning it – which if done improperly only chars tusks.
  • 36.3 — Number of tons in weight of ivory collectively burned or destroyed by the above 4 countries.
  • 12 — Number of tons in weight of stockpiled elephant tusk in the USA — which the country plans to destroy by crushing, in October 2103. In late Sep 2013, The U.S. called for “global destruction” of illegal ivory.

African Lions

While the tiger habitat does not include the African continent, this species own endangered status (3200-4000 wild tigers left) is driving demands for African lion bones as an alternative to tiger bones — which are used in various Chinese medicines. This shift adds to the threats to the lion. The African lion is currently being considered for addition to the Endangered Species Act list.

  • Aug 10 — World Lion Day.
  • 10-14 — Years of lifespan in the wild (up to 20 in captivity).
  • 105 — Days of gestation.
  • 0 — Number of predators, other than humans.
  • 1996 — Year declared “vulnerable” by the IUCN.
  • 30 — Number of African countries to which the African lion is native.
  • 25-26 — Estimated number of African countries in which the lion is already extinct.
  • 80 — Percentage decline in the lion’s historical geographical range.
  • 32,000 — Maximum estimated number of lions remaining in the wild.
  • 15,000 — Minimum estimated number remaining.
  • 100,000 — Estimated number in the wild in the 1960s.
  • 200,000+ — Estimated number in the wild a century ago.



Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites: