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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, more than 28,000 species of animals across the world are in danger of becoming extinct. Among those is the black rhino. One type of black rhinoceros, the Western black rhino, has already been declared lost from the planet.

At the start of the 20th century, there were approximately one million black rhinos representing four different subspecies living in Africa. During the 1950s, China’s Chairman Mao promoted Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, one of the prized ingredients of the alternative medical concoctions was powdered rhino horns. The people were led to believe that the powder was vital to alleviate or cure anything from simple fevers to complex cancers. Middle Eastern cultures also prized the horns for use in making handles for ceremonial knives. The demand for the elusive treasures brought an abundance of greedy poachers.

More problems arose in the 1960s, when hunters traveled to Africa to hunt big game species. These hunters and poachers benefited from African farmers and ranchers, who took over many of these animals’ natural habitats. And, since rhinoceros were considered detrimental to crop production, they were often shot by landowners. 

Over the course of just a few decades, the overall black rhinoceros population fell by 98 percent. By 1995, only 2,500 black rhinoceros remained. However, conservation efforts enabled the species to rebound. As of 2019, there are between 5,000 and 5,455 black rhinos known to be surviving and thriving. Unfortunately, no Western black rhinos exist among them.

While all rhinos were in danger during this period of drastic poaching, the Western black species suffered the most. By 1991, only 50 of the western black rhinos remained. One year later, the population dropped further to 35. In 1997, a mere 10 rhinos were counted, spaced out across hundreds of miles of land in Africa. Although efforts were underway to save the remaining beasts, by 2003, no evidence of the Western black rhino was found. In that year, the Western black rhinoceros was declared extinct.

Today, the Southern Central, Eastern, and South Western black rhino subspecies still walk this earth. However, many efforts have been put in place to keep these species alive. With only 5,000 left, it’s hard to say whether or not the black rhinos will ever regain their former glory. While we have lost the Western black rhinoceros, perhaps the other subspecies can be saved.