KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Perissodactyla (Odd-toed Ungulates)
FAMILY: Rhinocerotidae (Rhinoceros)
SUB-FAMILY: Rhinocerotinae (Rhinoceros)
GENUS: Ceratotherium (White Rhino)
SPECIES: Ceratotherium simum (White Rhino)
Historically, the White rhinoceros was widely distributed throughout Africa. Their current range is much more restricted and they can now only be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Zambia.
The white rhino’s skin is generally a pale grey and hairless, except for a few hairs on the ears. The white rhino is distinguished from the black rhino by its square upper lip. Black rhinos have triangular upper lips. Rhinos have two horns made of keratin on the front of their heads. White rhinos have bigger heads, longer ears and longer horns than black rhinos.
These rhinos prefer dense forests, savannas, and woodlands with grassy openings. White rhinos prefer flat lands with bush for cover, grass for grazing and water for drinking and wallowing in, and can occasionally be found in swampy regions.
Rhinos are herbivores (plant-eaters) and the white rhino’s square upper lip makes it easier to crop grasses to graze on. They will eat leaves, wood, bark, stems, seeds, grains, nuts, fruit, pollen, flowers, sap and other plant fluids.
White rhinos are the most social of all rhino species. Temporary herds of 14 or more individuals will occasionally be observed, but for the most part, females reside with their most recent offspring, whilst males will mostly stay solitary until the breeding season. These rhinos generally stay in one area and are territorial. Males use urine to mark their territory.
White rhinos are polygynandrous (males and females will both have several mates). Males will look out for any females who might enter their territory. The male will then follow the female around for up to 6 days. If she is receptive, she will respond with snorts and roars.
The pair bond may last from 5-20 days. If the female leaves his territory, the male will discontinue following her. After a gestation period of about 18 months, a single calf is born. Calves will be weaned at about 2 months and will become independent at about 6 months of age. They will follow their mothers around for about 2.5-3 years, after which their mothers will drive them away. Females will reach sexual maturity at about 3-5 years and males at 5-7 years. They can live up to 50 years old.
White rhinos don’t have many predators. Calves may be susceptible to hyenas and lions.
White rhinos are poached due to the demand for their valuable horns. Rhino horn is used in various traditional Asian medicines and is believed to cure a range of illnesses. It is also believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac and enhancer. These beliefs are misconceptions that are very detrimental to rhino conservation. Unfortunately rhino horn is also sometimes seen as a symbol of wealth, and this has increased recent demand.
Did you know?
- Rhinos have poor eyesight, but excellent smell and hearing
- Rhinos only have three toes on their feet
- They spend most of the day resting in the shade or wading in water holes and eat only during cooler periods of the day
- White rhinos are so called not because they are “white,” but because their face is “wide” (a case of mistranslation)