The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a browser. It is distinguished by its prehensile upper lip, which it uses to grasp the twigs, leaves and herbs that constitute the bulk of its diet, and which explains its alternative name, the hook-lipped rhino. Like the white rhinoceros, it is grey in colour. It is generally a solitary animal, preferring areas with shrubs and trees: occasionally, groups are observed at waterholes.
The black rhino used to be widely distributed throughout
, adapted to a wide range of habitats and climates. The travel accounts of European explorers and hunters during the early nineteenth century recorded that this pachyderm was common throughout the continent.
Its population was dramatically reduced during the last century by excessive hunting. By 1970, the total number of black rhinos in
was estimated to be approximately 65000, but by 1992, 96% of these rhinos had been lost, with the species having gone extinct in four southern African countries. Most of these rhinos were killed illegally and their horns sold to be used as dagger handles in the Middle East, or as traditional medicines in
The population number of black rhinos stabilised during 1992-95 and then slowly increased, reaching 3600 by the end of 2003, mainly due to increases in Namibia and South Africa offsetting the declines in other countries. Approximately 97% of these animals were in
, with only small populations in
. In the absence of any recent observations, the black rhino was believed to be extinct in
By 2003, SADC range states as a whole contained 87% of all surviving black rhinoceros and the entire populations of the south-central (D. b. minor) and south-western (D. b. bicornis) subspecies. The other two subspecies of the black rhino, the western black rhino (D. b. longipes) and the eastern black rhino (D. b. michaeli) occurred outside the target area of the SADC Rhino Conservation Programme.
Distribution of the four subspecies of black rhinoceros
This distribution map is based on one produced by the IUCN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group: for security reasons and to protect the wishes of some range states, maps showing the names and location of individual populations are not produced.