In pre-historical times the White Rhino would have roamed widely throughout the African savanna. Two widely separated subspecies occurred: one in northern Central Africa and the other in southern Africa. Some biologists argue that the length of time of separation, coupled with morphological differences, justifies their recognition as two distinct species, but others dispute this.
The White Rhino is now the most numerous of all living rhino species. The fortunes of the two subspecies, however, could not be more different. The Northern White Rhino is now functionally extinct. But the Southern White Rhino, in the 1960s reduced by hunting, land-use changes, and poaching to a tiny population in what is now South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province, grew to more than 20,000 around 2010–2013. This ranks as one of the greatest conservation triumphs of all time.
Poaching, however, has exacted an enormous toll over the past decade. In 2019, the official population figure for the White Rhino had fallen to 18,067. We know that in recent years there has been a particularly sharp decline in the Kruger National Park’s White Rhino population. And until audited, up-to-date census figures are released by the South Africa Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, the number of 18,067 is viewed with grave circumspection.
This representation of the historical distribution of the White Rhino is derived from two sources: Circa 1500 from “New maps representing the historical and recent distribution of the African species of rhinoceros: Diceros bicornis, Ceratotherium simum and Ceratotherium cottoni, by Kees Rookmaker and Pierre-Olivier Antoine, published in Pachyderm No. 52 July–December 2012; and Circa 1700 from “Status Survey and Consolidated Action Plan: African Rhino”, compiled by Richard Emslie and Martin Brookes, published in 1999 by the IUCN/SSC AfRSG.
Extant naturally occurring populations