These large animals can weigh up to 3000 pounds and they browse on trees and bushes. Their prominent horn can grow up to five feet in length and the major threat to the black rhino is poachers who kill them for their horn. Due to poachers, the loss of habitat and competition for food, the IUCN lists the black rhino as critically endangered.
In 1970, 20,000 black rhinos roamed Kenya. Today, as a result of extensive poaching, there are only about 540 left. The surviving rhinos are concentrated in sanctuaries where they are protected from poachers, and populations in these sanctuaries are increasing. In the future, rhinos from these critically important breeding populations may be reintroduced to their former homes.
Once the rhinos were under protection, scientists noted that some groups bred at a much higher rate than others. The Saving Kenya’s Black Rhinosproject researched the causes of this and explored the habitat requirements and dynamics of the black rhino population at the Ol Pejeta refuge. The project also focused on the interactions between rhinos and other animals in the area, including elephants, giraffes, and other herbivores. The findings helped to determine how many rhinos and other large animals can coexist within a habitat before the habitat becomes damaged, resulting in lower breeding rates.
Earthwatch volunteers not only made a significant contribution to the welfare of black rhinos, they also enjoyed the opportunity to see the “big five” – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard – on a daily basis during afternoon and night game drives.