Rhinoceros, or rhino for short, is one of Africa’s big five species. The word rhinoceros comes from the Greek words rhino, meaning “nose,” and ceros meaning “horn.” There are five rhino species in the world, but only two of those are found in Africa:
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
Two genetically different subspecies of the white rhino exist. These are the northern white and southern white rhino.
Differences between White Rhino and Black Rhino
|White Rhino||Black Rhino|
|Scientific Name: Southern White Rhino Ceratotherium simum and Northern White Rhino Ceratotherium simum cottoni||Scientific Name: Diceros bicornis|
|Habitat: Predominantly grazers, they tend to live in sub-Saharan grasslands and savannas. Although they are sometimes found in riparian areas and bushland, as long as there is enough grass for them to feed on.||Habitat: Predominantly browsers, so they tend to live in bushland and scrub, woodland areas and riparian areas. Some have even adapted to mountainous terrain if there are enough food sources for them to feed on.|
|Appearance: They have thick greyish skin, which looks wrinkled in places. Their mouth is wide and square-shaped, which is good for grazing grasses. Due to this, they are often referred to as the square-lipped rhino. Larger than the black rhino. Both males and females have horns.||Appearance: They also have the same thick greyish skin, which looks wrinkled in places. Their mouth is a hook shape, and they are often referred to as the hook-lipped rhino. The shape of their mouth helps the browsing of leaves. They are smaller than the white rhino, but again both male and female have horns.|
|Behaviour: Females and young tend to live in small herds, while males tend to be solitary and territorial. males mark their territory. They often wallow in mud to help protect themselves from parasites and insects.||Behaviour: Being quite skittish, they are harder to find because of this and also they hide well in the bushy terrain they live in. They also tend to be solitary animals, although a mother and her calf have a strong bond.|
|Horns: Most rhino have two horns on their nose. The smaller one at the top and the longer one below it. The bottom horn can grow quite long and narrow.||Horns: Black rhino have two horns on their nose. The smaller one at the top and the longer one below it. Not quite as long and thin as white rhino horns.|
|Conservation Status: After more than a century of protection and management of the Southern White Rhino, they are now classified as Near Threatened. Around 18,000 animals exist, many in protected areas and private game reserves. Sadly, there are only two Northern White rhino left in the world.||Conservation Status: Black rhino are on the Critically Endangered list. Their numbers plunged to around 2,500, but now are more likely to be over 6000. There is still a lot of work to be done to increase their numbers through protection and education, but the numbers are moving in the right direction.|
You are more likely to see white rhino over black, however, due to their declining numbers in general, you will not always see rhino on safari. When you do see them, the reward is great, so cherish the sighting. There are several private game reserves in South Africa who have rhino (predominantly white) and these are generally well-monitored to prevent poaching. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Pilanesberg National Park, Greater Kruger and Kruger National Park have good numbers of both black and white and they are also found in a handful of private conservancies in Kenya, but also in Lake Nakuru National Park, Meru National Park and some in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Tanzania has limited numbers, although there are several in Ngorongoro Crater within the Ngorongoro Conservation area and in the Serengeti National Park near Moru Kopjes. Botswana has very few outside of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary Uganda has them in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and can find them in Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Their close relatives
Rhino belong to the Rhinocerotidae family, which is a small family of large herbivores. The other family members are:
- Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis): The Indian also known as the greater one-horned rhino, is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is the largest of the Asian species and has one horn.
- Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus): The Javan rhino is critically endangered and one of the rarest rhino species. It is native to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.
- Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis): The Sumatran is also critically endangered and found in Southeast Asia, including parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
The challenge to increase numbers
Poaching has been going on for many years. Sadly rhino are killed for their horns to be used in traditional medicine. However, the horn is primarily composed of keratin, a fibrous protein also found in human hair and nails. So there is nothing special about a their horns other than how magnificent it looks on a live animal.
In the late 19th century, Southern white rhino were thought to be extinct. However, a small population of fewer than 100 individuals was discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa in 1895. After more than a century of protection and management, they are now classified as Near Threatened, and around 18,000 animals exist in protected areas and private game reserves and some still live in National Parks.
The population of black rhino declined dramatically in the 20th century. Between 1960 and 1995, numbers dropped by a drastic 98%, to less than 2,500 animals. Since then, the species has made a tremendous comeback from the brink of extinction. Thanks to courageous conservation efforts across Africa, black rhino numbers have doubled from their horrible low 20 years ago, to more than 6,000 today.
What is happening to save them
In September 2023, African Parks purchased the world’s largest captive rhino breeding operation in a bid to rescue and rewild them to safe and well-managed protected areas across Africa. The rewilding 2000 campaign is huge, and African Parks’ vision is, over the next 10 years, to translocate the rhino to well-managed protected areas across Africa to supplement or create strategic populations to protect the long-term future of the species.
There are also smaller private conservation projects like Save the Waterberg Rhino which work tirelessly to protect the magnificent species.
The late Anna Mertz, who is described as the “mother of rhinos’ wrote a book ‘Rhino – At the brink of extinction’, which is well worth the read. In 1990, Anna was awarded the Global 500 Award from the UN Environmental Programme for her work with rhino. She was also instrumental in setting up the conservation projects within Lewa Conservancy in Kenya. Since 1983, Lewa has created a safe place for rhinos. As the first private rhino sanctuary in East Africa, Lewa’s population has grown from an initial 15 to 255 today. Lewa has also since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they have opened up their borders to the neighbouring Borana Conservancy to increase the area of land for the rhino to roam.