Rhinos are targeted by poachers for their horns that have a high demand in Asia. / Photo: AP

Rhino numbers grew across Africa last year, conservationists said on Thursday, hailing the first bit of "good news" in a decade for an animal threatened by poaching.

Nearly 23,300 rhinos roamed the continent at the end of last year, up by 5.2% compared with 2021, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"With this good news, we can take a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade," Michael Knight, a wildlife ecologist who chairs the IUCN's African Rhino Specialist Group, said.

The IUCN combined rhino estimates from various nations to produce the continental tally and said "a combination of protection and biological management initiatives" had led the number of black rhinos to increase by 4.2% to 6,487.

White rhinos were up 5.6 percent to 16,803 – the first increase since 2012, IUCN said.

"It is imperative to further consolidate and build upon this positive development and not drop our guard," Knight said.

More than 550 rhinos killed in 2022

Rhinos have been decimated by decades of poaching driven by demand from Asia, where horns are used in traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic effects.

More than 550 rhinos were killed by poachers across the continent in 2022, mostly in South Africa, according to the IUCN.

South Africa is home to nearly 80% of the world's rhinos. Poachers there have increasingly targeted privately-owned reserves in their hunt for horns, highly sought in black markets where the price per weight rivals that of gold and cocaine at an estimated $60,000 per kilogramme.