BLACK AND WHITE
There are two species of rhinoceros, the black rhino and the white rhino, and the simplest way to identify them is by examining their top lip. The white rhino has a wide, square lip which makes grazing on grasses easier whilst the Black rhino has a pointed, almost hooked, lip which assists it in pulling the leaves off shrubs and trees which make up its diet. The white rhino’s name is, in fact, a misnomer as it is not white at all. Rather the ‘white’ derives from the Dutch word for wide, “weit” which refers to the shape of its lip. Both rhinos are grey in colour and have two horns used primarily for protection against predators.
IN THE WILD
Rhino are solitary creatures and prefer to graze at dawn and dusk. They spend the heat of the day resting in the shade or wallowing in muddy shallows, coating themselves in a layer of mud that dries and protects them from the sun and acts as an insect repellent. Rhinos do not see very well but they have a keen sense of smell and excellent hearing. The black rhino in particular is quite aggressive and they have been known to charge if they sense a threat. Due to their poor eyesight, this threat may turn out to be nothing more than a tree or a termite mound, though.
Challenges & Solutions
At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated that as few as 50-200 white rhinos were left in the wild having been hunted almost into extinction. This number had grown to an estimated 11 500 by the start of the 21st century – a testament to the benefits of conservation efforts. The plight of the black rhino is the opposite with their numbers declining from an estimated 70 000 in the wild in the late 1960s to approximately 3725 today. Rhinoceros are under serious threat of extinction due to the demand for rhino horn for medicinal and ornamental purposes mainly in Asia. Rhino horn is made up of keratin – the same substance as human hair and nails – which is claimed, incorrectly, to cure hangovers, cancer and impotence. Rhino poachers have become organised, efficient and almost militarized in their activities and over a thousand rhino were killed in South Africa in 2013. In the first half of 2014, South Africa has lost another 450 rhino to poachers. Another threat to rhino is loss of habitat as towns and villages grow larger each year reducing the space for rhino.
Combatting poaching is the primary focus of rhino conservation. Reducing the demand for rhino horn will reduce poaching and campaigns to bring the facts to the people purchasing rhino horn are underway throughout Asia. It is also important to halt the destruction of habitats and ensure that areas which support rhinoceros are patrolled by wildlife scouts who are able to identify suspicious activity. Ensuring that poachers are prosecuted under the law is another focus of conservation efforts.
- Scientific Name
- Black: Dicerous bicornis; White: Ceratotherium
- 1500 – 3600kg, 3300 – 8000lbs
- Approx 1.5m, 5ft tall
- Life Span
- Up to 40 years
- Group Name
- 16 months