Africa's black rhinos are killed for their horns, which are made into highly prized dagger handles. Rhino horn is still consumed in some places as an aphrodisiac or in traditional medicine. Products containing rhino horn are taken to treat headaches, fatigue, and convulsions.
The poaching threat remains great as demand for rhino horn continues into the 21st century.
The black rhinoceros inhabits the bushy plains, rugged hills, and scrub lands in isolated areas of central and southern Africa.
The south-western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis bicornis) is one of the four recognised ecotypes of the black rhino. Historically, it occurred in most areas of south-western Africa with annual precipitation of less than 500 mm.
The effect of the illegal trade of rhino horn on Africa's black rhino population has been catastrophic: down from 65,000 in 1970 to 4,000 in 1989. This smuggling racket involving mainly North Yemen and the Sudan has become the biggest single threat facing Africa's endangered black rhinos.
From a total number of at least 100 000 in 1960, There are fewer than 2,550 black rhinos alive today. A 1997 estimate by the IUCN put the total black rhino population at 2,600. During the 1980's black rhino populations were reduced by 85%. By 1990 98 % of the population had been restricted to five countries and to four countries by 1996. South Africa holds 1,024 black rhinos, Namibia 598, Kenya 420, Zimbabwe 315 and Tanzania 32.
The south-western black rhino became extinct in South Africa in 1853, and by the mid 1980's the remaining few hundred individuals were confined to one population in north-western Namibia.
In South Africa only 100-150 black rhinos exclusively of the south-Central ecotype (Diceros bicornis minor) survived in Zululand in the 1930's, but by 1996 this population had increased to almost 1,000.
The IUCN considers Diceros bicornis to be "Critically Endangered". CITES lists the species as "Appendix 1".