Now is the time to pack your bags and set off on an expedition to meet some of the world’s largest and most endangered animals in their natural habitat
In yet another tragic reminder of humanity’s ability to wipe out wildlife, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, was sadly put down in March 2018. His passing brings into sharp focus the impact poaching and habitat destruction has had on one of the world’s most unique mammals. Only five species of rhino remain, two in Africa and three in Asia, and all of them are under threat.
Thankfully, conservation efforts are helping to bolster the remaining populations, and there’s never been a better time to see this work in action. For an uplifting insight into conservation success, make your way to southern Africa, where white rhinos thrive. Alternatively, for a chance to see the last few members of a critically endangered species, travel to Java in search of the elusive Javan rhino.
From the dusty bush of the Kruger National Park to the swampy wetlands of Way Kambas, there is a rhino holiday to suit everyone.
The species that came back from the brink
In the late 19th century there were fewer than 100 southern white rhinos left in the wild – they were so scarce that many feared they were extinct. Fortunately, years of intensive conservation efforts have brought them back from the edge. Today, they number in the tens of thousands. However, they are not out of the woods yet, and the species still faces immense pressure from poachers and habitat destruction. Even so, if you want to see what conservation can do for endangered animals, this species should be top of your travel list.
For a chance to see them in their natural habitat, head to one of their four home countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is home to over 10,000 white rhinos. Rides in the south of this 4.7-million-acre site often involve rhino sightings. The park recommends the dry season for visits as animals congregate around watering holes and are therefore often easier to spot, but you can go at any time, driving yourself or joining a tour. Switch off your engine when you get to a watering hole and take the time to absorb savannah life.
Asia’s conservation success story
Also known as the Indian rhino, the greater one-horned rhino is the largest in the world, but like other rhino species, they faced
a crisis in their recent history. Numbers dipped below 200 in the late 20th century, but intense conservation has stabilised the population. There are now more than 3,500 individuals in the wild. If you’re heading to Asia, this is the rhino species you’re most likely to see.
With the mythical-sounding Latin name Rhinoceros unicornis, these elusive creatures roam the wet grasslands of India and Nepal. If you’re lucky you might even spot one swimming. A popular destination for wildlife tourism is the Kaziranga National Park in India. It’s a world heritage site offering safety to around two-thirds of the one-horned rhino population. The best time to visit is between November and April.
Breaking barriers to save Africa’s endangered rhino
Only 5,000 black rhinos remain in the wild and their status is Critically Endangered. Victims of aggressive poaching, their numbers plummeted at the end of the 20th century, leaving the population severely dented. Numbers are now climbing thanks to conservation efforts, but poachers still pose a threat.
One of the best places to see them is the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. They’ve championed rhino conservation since 1984, transforming a population of just 15 into a thriving community. In 2014, they removed the fence with their neighbouring Borana Conservancy, giving their rhinos 93,000 acres of safe space within which to roam. Incredibly, the conservancy has witnessed no rhino poaching for three years.
Dotted with lodges and camps, the conservancy welcomes visitors, investing tourism funds back into conservation that helps to support rhinos and other endangered species. During your visit you’ll also have the chance to spot the conservancy’s 74 southern white rhinos, the largest population of Grevy’s zebra in Kenya, hundreds of elephants, 25 lions, a pack of wild dogs, 13 cheetahs and ten leopards. Conservation of rhinos not only saves the species but also preserves large areas of land, providing much-needed protection for Africa’s wildlife.
The world’s smallest rhino
The world’s smallest rhino species is also one of the most endangered. There are fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild. With hairy skin, they share close ancestry with the woolly rhinos that roamed the ancient Earth, and they can be very hard to find.
Declared extinct in Malaysia in 2015, the best place to see them is at one of Indonesia’s National Parks: Bukit Barisan Selatan, Gunung Leuser or Way Kambas. Here, anti-poaching units protect these vital rhinos. Trained by the International Rhino Foundation, they disarm traps, stop poachers and protect the environment from illegal logging.
Sumatran rhinos can be challenging to spot in the wild because they live in low-lying forests with dense plant life. They also travel alone, wandering far from their neighbours as they roam through the undergrowth. A trip to find them won’t disappoint wildlife enthusiasts though; Sumatran rhinos share their home with many charismatic species, including Asian elephants, gibbons and tigers.