It’s not quite as simple as it sounds! In Africa there are two species of rhino; black and white rhinos. Naming them by colour has created some confusion because both species of rhino are in fact grey! Despite them being the same colour they do have many different characteristics helping you to tell them apart if you are lucky enough to see them. The confusion started when early Dutch settlers referred to a rhino as having a “wijde lip” the English mistook the word “wijde” (meaning wide) for “white” and assumed that they were called white rhinos.
So, if they are both grey – how can you tell them apart?
Lips: They have very different lip shapes. The black rhino has a pointed upper lip, while a white rhino has a wide, squared lip. This is due to the animals’ diets. Black rhinos are browsers that get most of their food from eating trees and bushes plucking leaves and fruit from branches. White rhinos prefer to graze on grasses, strolling along with their heads and lowered to the ground making use of their squared lip a bit like a very large lawnmower!
Size: White rhinos are much larger, longer and more cumbersome. The black rhino is shorter and more compact. White rhinos also have a flat back with a small hump about three quarters of the way along its body. A black rhino has a deep arch in its back.
The senses: Both black and white rhinos have very bad eyesight but a great sense of smell to help them to stay aware of their surroundings. The difference is their ears. White rhinos ears are tubular in shape. Black rhinos ears are much smaller and rounder in shape.
Behaviour: Black rhinos have a reputation for being more aggressive and inquisitive than the white rhino.
- They are faster than they look! White rhinos can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h and black rhinos are even faster running up to 55 km/h.
- During the heat of the day, rhinos can be found sleeping in the shade or wallowing in muddy pools to cool off. The mud also protects their skin from the strong sun (like a natural sunblock) and wards off biting bugs, too.
- Males are called ‘bulls’ and like to be left alone, unless in search of a female to breed with when in a group it’s known as a ‘crash’.
- Rhino horns grow as much as three inches a year, and can grow up to five feet long.
- Southern white rhinos numbers are increasing in protected sanctuaries and are now classified as near threatened. The western black rhino and northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild. The only two remaining northern white rhino known to exist are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
- Black rhinos have doubled in numbers from their low point of fewer than 2,500 and the continued efforts of conservationists are helping those numbers to continue to rise.
Species of rhino in Africa:
The Black rhino can be found across southern and eastern Africa but conservation efforts are helping to expand their range and numbers which are currently thought to be between 5,366 and 5,627. The White (Southern) rhino can also be found in eastern and southern Africa and as with the Black Rhino, conservation efforts are helping to expand their range and numbers which are currently thought to be between 17,212 and 18,915 left in the world.
There’s also the Northern White rhino. In March 2018, the world lost the last known male northern white rhino. Sudan, the 45-year old gentle giant, had to be euthanized after his health declined. Sudan’s final years were spent at his home in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. This tragedy left only two northern white rhinos alive in the world, both of them females. Both still live on Ol Pejeta. Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their home range devastated northern white rhino populations, and they are now believed to be extinct in the wild.
There are also desert-adapted black rhinos! A desert black rhino looks a bit different to other black rhino. Their horn is slightly longer and thinner than a regular black rhino, this helping them to forage in barren environments.
- They are the largest truly free-ranging population of black rhino in the world.
- They are hardy rhinos who survive in temperature extremes ranging from sub-zero to above 40°C! The arid environment also means very little rainfall. Normally rhino drink every night, yet the desert rhinos only take water every few days.
- The scenery is scattered with basalt rocks and mountain ranges with little vegetation, but these rhinos are able to digest highly toxic desert plants such as the Euphorbia damarana, a succulent plant which is deadly to humans.
Other species of rhino in the world include: The Javan rhino (one of the rarest large mammals on earth) found in Java (Indonesia) and has a current known population of just 69! The Sumatran rhino (has been on earth longer than any other living mammal) is found in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Sabah (Malaysia) There are only around 80 known to be left. The Greater one-horned rhino is semi-aquatic and can be found in India and Nepal there are thought to be around 3,550 left in the world.
How can you help to save the Rhino? Find out how you can play your part in ending this barbaric trade and help save the rhino! savetherhino.org/get-involved/