Animal of the Month
April 2021
Name: White Rhinoceros

Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Rhinocerotidae
Genus: Ceratotheriu
Species: C. simum
Northern White Rhinoceros - C. simum simum
Northern White Rhinoceros - C. simum cottoni

Size: Body 11-13.75 feet long, tail 20-27.5 inches
Weight: 1.6-4 tons

Large sturdy body with thick, leathery skin. Four legs with padded feet. Large head with two small ears. Two small eyes, one on each side of the head. Wide nose with large nostrils, and mouth has square-shaped lips. Two horns, one large horn above the nose, and a smaller horn between the eyes.
Color(s): Whitish-gray.
Behavior: Territorial, sometimes lives in herds of up to a dozen.
Preferred Habitat: Grassy plains.
Range: Southern White Rhinoceros-South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya, Mozambique and Eswatini. Northern White Rhinoceros-Exclusively in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya.
Diet: Grass, fruits, and leaves.
Lifespan: Unknown in wild, about 40-50 years in captivity.

Status: Southern White Rhinoceros Near Threatened, Northern White Rhinoceros CRITICALLY ENDANGERED, nearly EXTINCT IN WILD

Some animals have names that don't seem to fit. Wolf eels aren't really eels. "Dinosaur" means "terrible lizard", but dinosaurs weren't lizards. One of the most famous of these misnamed critters are the white rhinos, which aren't really white! White Rhinos are the second largest land animals on Earth. They are found on the grasslands of Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

White rhinos spend their days eating grass, leaves and fruits on the African savannah. They love to wallow in pools of mud to keep cool and fend off parasites. If this is not possible, they will roll in dust instead.

The most notable features of white rhinos are the horns that grow on their faces. These horns are used in combat against predators as well as competition for mates. The front or anterior horn of northern white rhinos can grow to be up to 40 inches long, while southern white rhinos can have a horn up to 79 inches long! The smaller or posterior horn in both species is usually about 22 inches long. The horns are not part of the rhino's skeleton; they are made of keratin, the same material of which your hair and fingernails are made. If a rhino's horn breaks off, it will grow back just like your nails do!

Females have territories of up to eight square miles that overlap with male territories of about one square mile. Females almost always travel in groups. A male will rule his territory alone, often allowing "satellite males" to roam through as long as they respect the owner. Males and females only get together for mating, and females only mate every 3-4 years. When it's time, a male will keep his distance from a female until she allows him to get close and mate. A rhino calf will nurse for about two months before eating grass. Calves live close to their mother for three years before going on their own.

So, why are white rhinos called white even though they're gray? It turns out it's a mystery! White rhinos have been called such by European hunters and scientists since the 1800s, and the reasons are not clear. A common theory is that "white" is a corruption of the Dutch word wijde, which means "wide". This refers to the white rhino's wide lips. This theory, however, has been (no pun intended) widely contested. It may be some time before scientists and historians can determine just how the white rhino got its name.

As a whole species, white rhinos are classed as near threatened. The main threats to white rhinos are poaching for their horns. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, rhinos were hunted as trophies. In recent decades, rhino horns have been trafficked due to a demand for traditional Asian medicines. As is the case with pangolins, seahorses, tigers and many other animals, there is ZERO scientific evidence that suggests rhino parts are of any medicinal value!

The southern white rhino was nearly hunted to extinction, but through intense conservation and several reintroduction programs, they have gone from less than a hundred individuals to perhaps twenty thousand! This is one of Africa's greatest conservation success stories. Many governments and organizations are working furiously to make sure the southern white rhino's future is safeguarded.

Unfortunately, the northern white rhino has not experienced the same luck. They have been overhunted so badly that they are on the literal brink of extinction. In 2018, Sudan, the last known male northern white rhino, died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The last known living white rhinos are Sudan's daughter Najin and his granddaughter Fatu. They also live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where they are protected by armed guards around the clock. Without any more males to father new calves, the future for northern white rhinos seems depressingly bleak…

…but this is also a story of incredible hope. Over the years, scientists collected sperm and egg samples of northern white rhinos. Plans are being made to conceive a rhino calf through in vitro fertilization, using a southern white rhino as a surrogate mother. If this works, there is a possibility that the northern white rhino can be saved from extinction! This is an example of how conservation can occur in all sorts of amazing ways.

To learn more about these (not) white creatures and how to protect them, check out these awesome organizations:

Ol Pejeta Conservancy-Learn more about the preserve that protects the last two northern white rhinos, as well as a myriad of other amazing animals!

Save the Rhino, White Rhino Page-This British charity is working hard to pro-tect rhinos and to stop the illegal wildlife trade!

World Wildlife Fund, White Rhino Page-WWF is helping rhinos by working to strengthen international and local law enforcement!

International Rhino Foundation, White Rhino Page-This organization is doing all sorts of work to advance education and protect rhinos!


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