The rhinoceros is a large, primitive-looking mammal that in
fact dates from the Miocene era millions of years ago. In
recent decades rhinos have been relentlessly hunted to the
point of near extinction. Since 1970 the world rhino
population has declined by 90 percent, with five species
remaining in the world today, all of which are endangered.
bicornis), white (Ceratotherium
||About 60 inches at the
||1 to 11/2
tons (black rhino), over 2 tons (white
||35 to 40 years
||Grassland and open
The white or square-lipped rhino is one of two rhino species
in Africa. It in turn occurs as two subspecies, the southern and
the northern. The southern dwindled almost to extinction in the
early 20th century, but was protected on farms and reserves,
enabling it to increase enough to be reintroduced. The northern
white rhino has recovered in Democratic Republic of Congo from
about 15 in 1984 to about 30 in the late 1990s. This population,
however, has recently been severely threatened by political
conflict and instability.
The white rhino's name derives from the Dutch "weit,"
meaning wide, a reference to its wide, square muzzle adapted for
grazing. The white rhino, which is actually gray, has a
pronounced hump on the neck and a long face.
The black, or hooked-lipped, rhino, along with all other
rhino species, is an odd-toed ungulate (three toes on each foot).
It has a thick, hairless, gray hide. Both the black and white
rhino have two horns, the longer of which sits at the front of
Black rhinos have various habitats, but mainly areas with
dense, woody vegetation. White rhinos live in savannas with
water holes, mud wallows and shade trees.
Rhinos live in home ranges that sometimes overlap with each
other. Feeding grounds, water holes and wallows may be shared.
The black rhino is usually solitary. The white rhino tends to be
much more gregarious. Rhinos are also rather ill-tempered and
have become more so in areas where they have been constantly
disturbed. While their eyesight is poor, which is probably why
they will sometimes charge without apparent reason, their sense
of smell and hearing are very good. They have an extended "vocabulary"
of growls, grunts, squeaks, snorts and bellows. When attacking,
the rhino lowers its head, snorts, breaks into a gallop reaching
speeds of 30 miles an hour, and gores or strikes powerful blows
with its horns. Still, for all its bulk, the rhino is very agile
and can quickly turn in a small space. The rhino has a symbiotic
relationship with oxpeckers, also called tick birds. In Swahili
the tick bird is named "askari wa kifaru," meaning "the rhino's
guard." The bird eats ticks it finds on the rhino and noisily
warns of danger. Although the birds also eat blood from sores on
the rhino's skin and thus obstruct healing, they are still
The black rhino is a browser, with a triangular-shaped upper
lip ending in a mobile grasping point. It eats a large variety
of vegetation, including leaves, buds and shoots of plants,
bushes and trees. The white rhino, on the other hand, is a
grazer feeding on grasses.
Caring for the Young
The closest rhino relationship is between a female and her calf,
lasting from 2 to 4 years. As the older calves mature, they
leave their mothers and may join other females and their young,
where they are tolerated for some time before living completely
on their own.
Man is the cause of the demise of the rhino. In the wild, the
adult black or white rhino has no true natural predators and,
despite its size and antagonistic reputation, it is extremely
easy for man to kill. A creature of habitat that lives in a
well-defined home range, it usually goes to water holes daily,
where it is easily ambushed. The dramatic decline in rhino
numbers is unfortunate in an era of increasing conservation and
wildlife awareness, but efforts are underway to save the rhino
Did you know?
- The black rhino declined drastically in the 1970s and
1980s due to poaching. To prevent extinction, many rhinos were
translocated to fenced sanctuaries in the early 1990s. This
effort appears to be succeeding, as 1994 was the first time in
20 years that rhino numbers did not decline.
- The rhino is prized for its horn. Not a true horn, it is
made of thickly matted hair that grows from the skull without
skeletal support. The major demand for horn is in Asia, where
it is used in traditional medicine and ornamental carvings.