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African Rhinoceros


Rhino » Rhinoceros » Rhinocerotidae » ‘Renoster’

Who would mess with a rhinoceros? Only the grossly foolish, undoubtedly heartless and short-sighted would trouble this noble beast, endowed with great big horns, extremely tough hide, considerable size and a very short fuse. Tragically there are many humans who do - today the rhino is an endangered species caused by excessive poaching for their horns.

Millions of years ago during the Miocene era this prehistoric looking mammal was abundant and widespread on the planet. All of the five remaining species of rhinoceros in the world have been hunted to near extinction. Two species of these odd-toed ungulates occur in Africa and three in Asia. Africa’s rhino are endowed with not one but two great big horns on their nose and mid-forehead. The White Rhino and Black Rhino are the second largest animals in Africa after the African elephant and live to be 50 years old or more.

Why are rhino horns so sought after? Rhino horn is used to make handles for Djambia daggers, symbols of wealth and status in the oil rich state of North Yemen. The powdered horn is also used as a febrifuge in Chinese traditional medicine for treating fever – not as an aphrodisiac as is widely believed.

Black and White? The White Rhino isn’t actually white – this English name originated as a phonetic form of the descriptive Dutch settlers' name "wyd", which means "wide", referring to its wide, square muzzle. The rhino with the narrow pointed muzzle then got called the Black Rhino, although both are light grey in colour. More correctly, the White Rhino is also called the Square-lipped Rhinoceros and the Black Rhino’s alternate name is the Hook-lipped Rhinoceros.

Square-Lipped Rhinoceros » White Rhinoceros » Ceratotherium simum

The White Rhino has an amazing conservation success story in South Africa. At the beginning of the 20th century it was almost extinct – its numbers were down to about 50 individuals in KwaZulu-Natal! Radical measures were taken and now it has recovered to over 11 000 animals and is the most abundant rhino species left in the world.

Its "wide" square muzzle is adapted to cropping large mouthfuls of grass and being a grazer it naturally prefers grasslands and savannah woodlands. Far more peaceful and sociable than its cousin the Black rhino, the White rhino happily coexists in groups of up to a dozen. They have a wide range of vocalisations and also communicate by touching, usually rubbing against each other when they're in a friendly mood. The Square-lipped Rhino has a distinguishable hump on the back of its neck and a propotionately larger head. Dominant males are territorial and greet each other with a ritual of repeatedly locking horns, backing off, sweeping the ground with their front horn before locking horns again. Fighting only gets serious when there's a female in oestrous.

One thing that a rhino loves is a good scratch! They often have favourite rubbing 'posts' - a tree stump, rock or termite mound that gets polished with years of use.

Hook-Lipped Rhinoceros » Black Rhinoceros » Diceros bicornis

Did you know that the Black Rhino is in fact completely grey? They love to wallow in waterholes and coat themselves with mud to keep cool, which also makes them look much darker. Needing to drink fresh water frequently and being creatures of habit they visit the same waterholes daily. This makes Black Rhinos an easy target for poachers to ambush and they are now critically endangered - there are probably less than 3,000 left in their natural habitat.

The Black Rhino is also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros for obvious reasons – their pointy upper lip is triangular and sticks out beyond their lower lip. They use it in a similar way as an elephant uses its trunk to grasp and pluck leaves, buds and twigs of bushes and trees. Essentially herbivorous browsers, they prefer dense, woody vegetation but can live in a variety of habitats.

Amazing Rhino Facts:

A few hundred years ago the Hook-lipped Rhinoceros lived on the slopes of Table Mountain, browsing on the bushes and shrubs of the fynbos.

Their tough skin can be up to 5cm thick and they have three toes on each foot. Although they are herbivorous, they are extremely dangerous and charge at the slightest whiff of danger. Adult White Rhinos usually weigh between 1800-3000 kg and have a shoulder height of 150-185 cm. The heaviest White Rhino ever recorded weighed 4500 kg!

Status The Black Rhino has been given a Critically Endangered status and the White Rhino is considered Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When you’re most likely to spot rhinos: Rhinos are most active at night, resting and sheltering in thickets or drinking and wallowing at waterholes during the day. At night they are easier to spot at floodlit waterholes in game reserves. White rhinos are much easier to spot as they prefer grazing on short grass.

Where rhinos roam: Black rhinos prefer woodlands and white rhinos favour flat grasslands. Both occur in game reserves in southern Africa with a few naturally occurring in the wild in northwestern Namibia.

Rhino reproduction and "home life": During the day they usually rest in the shade or at waterholes. They have their own "home ranges", or territories that vaguely overlap other ranges. Females have a single calf after 15-16 months gestation. Calves suckle for about a year but start browsing or grazing after a few weeks.


SADC Regional Programme for Rhino Conservation - Rhino conservation projects in southern Africa.

Black Rhino Trust - Aims to rescue and relocate Zimbabwe's Black Rhinos in Intensive Protection Zones.

International Rhino Foundation - Dedicated to conserving all species of rhinoceros worldwide.

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