Early in the 19th century the Black rhino was the most numerous of all the rhino species with a total number in the hundreds of thousands. Due to poaching for their horn, numbers crashed to a low of 2,410 in 1995. Since then Black rhino numbers have been slowly increasing however well equipped, well organised crime syndicates have killed more than 2,050 African rhinos since 2010 (May 2013, taken from AfRSG, Traffic and CITES Rhino Working Group). South Africa alone lost 668 rhinos in 2012 (more than double the number in 2010) and trends suggest this number may be exceeded in 2013 (367 by May 2013). Minimum numbers of poached African Rhinos show a drastic increase in recent years, rising from 60 in 2006 to 745 in 2012.
Most rhino horns leaving Africa are destined for Southeast Asian medicinal markets that are believed to be driving the poaching epidemic. In particular, Vietnamese nationals have been repeatedly implicated in rhino crimes in South Africa.
Despite these poaching losses, Black rhino numbers are up to 5,055 as of 31 Dec 2012 (from 4,240 in 2007). Even though this population growth is encouraging, unless the rapid escalation in poaching in recent years can be halted, African rhino numbers could once again start to decline. If the rate of increase in poaching seen 2011 / 2012 continues, modeling indicates that the tipping point when numbers start to decline could be reached as soon as 2015.
In the year 2012 there were 799 eastern Black rhinos, 2,299 south-central Black rhinos and 1,957 south-western Black rhinos in the wild. The western Black rhino is extinct.
- The eastern Black rhino (D.b. micheali) is Critically Endangered, with a current stronghold in Kenya, with 631 rhinos as at the end of 2012. They live mostly within protected areas, (sanctuaries in both protected areas and on private land) and in free-ranging populations on county council land. Tanzania has c. 100 eastern Black rhinos, mostly in free-ranging populations in unfenced protected areas and a few in sanctuaries. Rwanda and Ethiopia hold relict populations of one and two to four animals, in a protected area and on community land, respectively. At the end of 2012 South Africa had c. 68 eastern Black rhinos of predominantly Kenyan origin maintained on private land.
- Also categorised as Critically Endangered, the stronghold of the south-central Black rhino (D.b. minor) is South Africa and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, with smaller numbers remaining in southern Tanzania. The south-central Black rhino is now thought to be extinct in Angola and Mozambique but small numbers have been reintroduced into Swaziland, Malawi and, more recently, Zambia and Botswana.
- Significant populations of the vulnerable south-western Black rhino (D.b. bicornis) have remained in the desert and arid savannah areas of Namibia and this country is the stronghold for the taxon, conserving 1,750 rhinos as at the end of 2012 with South Africa conserving a further 206 rhinos. There are no south-western Black rhinos in captivity.
- The population of the western Black rhino (D.b. longipes) was reduced to only a few scattered animals remaining in northern Cameroon with some animals believed to be seasonal visitors to Chad. The last extensive survey of possible rhino range in 2006 failed to find any rhino or signs of rhino, and there have been no sightings since 2006. This subspecies is now categorised as extinct.