Top places to see rhinos on safari

Rhinos are one of the Big 5.  The term “Big 5” was coined in colonial times by hunters who listed lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo as the five most dangerous animals to hunt.

These days the Big 5 are protected, and the term is synonymous with wildlife and photographic safaris. Seeing any of the Big 5 on safari will truly remain an “awe-inspiring” sight for safari-goers.

The word “rhinoceros” comes from the Greek “rhino” (nose) and “ceros” (horn).  When on your African safari, you might be fortunate enough to see two rhino species. The critically endangered black rhino and the more common southern white rhino. 

If you are fortunate enough to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, you can also see the extremely rare northern white rhino. There are only 2 Northern White Rhinos left in the world – Najin and Fatu, both females.

Best places to see rhinos on safari

What is the difference between a black and white rhino?

Despite their names, both species are grey in colour. There are at least ten distinguishing characteristics that you can look for.

White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum)Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)
ColourThey have similar skin to humans but are usually covered in mud.They range in colour from dark greyish to brown.
HeightMeasure up to 1.8 metres at the shoulder. Measure up to 1.6 metres at the shoulder. 
WeightWhite rhinos weigh approximately 1,700 kgs (Female) or 2,300 kgs (Male).Black rhinos weigh between 800 kgs and 1,400 kgs.
LipsThe lips of white rhinos are used for grazing. That is, their lips are square.Black Rhinos have lips that they use to browse food. That is, their upper lips are pointed.
HeadWhite Rhinos have longer skulls than Black Rhinos and keep their heads lower to the ground.The head of a black rhino is protruding, with a smaller forehead.
HumpA more pronounced shoulder hump, with a sacral bump starting about two thirds of the way towards their rear (less close to their rear).  A hollow, saddle-back with a sacral bump very close to their rear.
EarsWhite rhinoceroses have longer, pointed ears.The curved ears of black rhinos are smaller.
TrackThe track measures 20 – 25 cm in length.The track measures 20 – 28 cm in length.
HornThey have two horns.  The front horn is longer than the back horn.They have two horns that are closer in length than those of a white rhino. 
DungDark or light grey, retaining a pale yellow or white colour when dry. Orange-brown, retaining an orangey-yellow colour when dry. 
BehaviourWhite rhinos are less inquisitive and aggressive than black rhinos.  More sociable and can be found in large groups of seven individuals or more. Black rhinos are more inquisitive and aggressive.  Usually live alone with gatherings of up to three individuals, a rare and usually brief occurrence. 
HabitatWhite rhinos are commonly found near grasslands.Black Rhinos are found in densely forested areas.
Mother and babyWhite rhino calves are often seen walking in front of their mother.Black rhino calves tend to walk behind their mother.

How did the White Rhino get its name?

The origin of the White Rhino’s name is up for debate. One of the most common stories guides will tell guests is that Dutch settlers referred to this rhino as having a “wijde lip,” or wide lip. The English mistook the word “wijde” (meaning wide) for “white,” assuming that the Dutch were calling them white rhinos. It’s a lovely story, and while there is no literature to back it up, most guides and authors will vigorously defend it. However, anyone familiar with Middle Dutch knows the word “wijde” cannot be used to denote a body part of an animal or human. 

Hunting journals from 1690 mention “witte rhinoster” as one of the rhinos being hunted. So, why white?  Two plausible explanations come to mind. Captain William Cornwallis Harris, an East India Company captain who spent two years from 1836-1838 pursuing his passion for hunting, described in his writings the White rhino as being a shade or two lighter than its “olive-brown” counterpart, the Black Rhino, often approaching a creamy colour. Was the colour difference significant enough to use white for name differentiation?