As is widely known around the World, the black rhino, Diceros bicornis, has declined across Africa in both numbers and range distribution. Its numbers plummeted from about 65,000 in 1970 to about 10,000 in the early 1980s. Although the rate of decline has reduced since late 1980s, the situation is still serious in all areas where the black rhino is still found naturally. Poaching for the horn has been, and continues to be, the major cause of the black rhino population decline. Currently, the total population of black rhino in Africa is estimated at 3100, according to African Rhino Specialist Group.
The decline in the eastern sub-species of black rhino, Diceros bicornis michaeli, numbers has been particularly severe in Eastern Africa. Previously, very large national parks and reserves such as the Tsavo National Park and Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania each used to hold more black rhino population than those surviving today across the entire African continent. In Kenya, black rhino numbers dropped from an estimated 20,000 in 1970 to an estimated 550 in 1984, 381 in 1987 and, 398 in 1991. This drastic decline was mainly due to poaching for the horn, which took place unabatedly inside and outside Protected Areas, parks and reserves.
Through such conservation endeavours as the "National Save the Rhino Project" (1984), Kenya Rhino Rescue Project (KRRP, 1985) and the Conservation Strategy and Management Plan for the Black Rhinoceros (1993), the remaining black rhino population in Kenya has been protected from further poaching. The numbers of rhinos continue to increase within major sanctuaries, both KWS and the private sanctuaries, at an annual rate of 4-5%, while rhino numbers in the large and difficult areas have remained stable. This made Kenya's rhino management programme one of the most successful species rehabilitation projects in the World.
The main policy for conservation of the rhinos during the past decade was to protect the remaining black rhinos and enhance rapid population growth through active management.
KWS has now adopted a new management plan for rhino conservation in Kenya. The broad goals of the current strategy are to enhance rapid population growth of the black rhino population in Kenya through increased attention to biological management, in addition to law enforcement. Specifically, the goal is to increase the black rhino numbers by at least 5% per annum and reach a confirmed total of 500 rhinos by 2005, 650 rhinos by 2010 and 1000 rhinos by 2020. The current programme is guided by the following strategic objectives:
- Development and implementation of an effective co-ordination framework for decision-making.
- Implementation of biological management that will result in an overall population growth rate of at least 5% per annum leading to a confirmed population of 500 in 2005,
- Minimisation of poaching losses through appropriate management action improved law enforcement and community support.
- Development of a standardised integrated monitoring system through which the necessary information for protection, meta-population management and programme implementation will be provided.
- Mobilisation of the resources necessary for the effective and efficient management of designated rhino areas.
- Promotion of sustainable mutual support and shared responsibilities of all rhino conservation stakeholders for effective implementation of the current plan.
To facilitate realisation of these objectives, the programme has installed a database of rhino numbers and information. This will improve on monitoring of the rhinos, both for security and biological research and management. The rhino staff were also trained on radio collar assemblage, radio tracking, use of Global Positioning System (GPS), receivers and rhino post release management.