The black rhino and white rhino are two separate species. Despite their names, the black rhino is not black and the white rhino is not white. How they were named is an animal mystery as both species vary in colour from yellowish brown to different tints of grey. The word ‘rhino’ comes from the Greek language meaning: ‘nose’ and ‘ceros’ meaning, ‘horn’.
If a rhino ever faces you in the wild and you have time to pause you can tell the difference between a white and black rhino by it’s top lip. The black rhino has a hooked top lip while the white rhino’s is flatter and squarer. The white species is the largest of the five living species of rhinoceros. The black rhino and white rhino are two of only five species left alive today:
- the black rhino
- the white rhino
- the Javan rhino
- the Sumatran rhino
- the Indian or greater one horned rhino
- Black rhino, genus: Diceros Bicornis. Typical Height 5 Feet 2, 140-180 cm. Typical Weight: 800-1450 kg, 55-70 in tall.
- The white rhinoceros, genus: Ceratotherium. Typical height at shoulder: 5-6 Feet, (1.8 m). Weight. 3,080-7,920 pounds. Males averaging 2,300 kg (5,070 lb. Males typical height: 65–71 in, females: 55-60 in.
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Familiar Features of the White Rhino and Black Rhino
Both species of rhino have two horns made of keratin fibre which is the same substance that makes human fingernails. Interestingly, unlike deer where horns grow from the bone, rhino horns grow from the skin. Rhino horns on both black and white rhinos differ in size from 20 inches to 50 inches long.
The horn on both species is hard enough to uproot small trees and bushes. When the horn is knocked off in battles, they can grow new horns. These weighty animals are built of think bones and thick muscle. Combine that with surprising speed – they can run as fast as a horse in short bursts, the rhino can be a deadly adversary in the wild. Black rhinos and white rhinos, like horses and elephants belong to class of animal called ungulates (odd-toed). Each toe ends in a hoof with the middle toe being more padded to take most of the weight.
Both species have 12-14 flat molars adapted to grind through large quantities of greenery every day. Hairless, tough skin, like armor allows both species of rhino to glide effortlessly through thorny bushes and trees.
Fantastic Facts About The Rhino
- A collective noun of a group of rhinos is a ‘crash’.
- It is thought the name ‘white rhino’ may have come from the Dutch word: ‘wijde’ or wide which refers to the white rhino’s square, wide lips.
- A large rhino in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park grew a horn of 50 inches (127 cm) in length.
- White rhinos of up to 4,500 kg (9,920 lb have been allegedly observed but not filmed.
- The white rhino is the second largest animal on land after 3 types of living elephant. It weighs slightly more than the hippo. The black rhino isn’t quite as large as the white rhino.
- A rhinoceros skull was found in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1335, and was believed to be that of a dragon.
Origins of the Black and White Rhinos
The largest land mammal that ever lived is believed to be a rhinoceros that lived 35 million years ago in South West Asia. At 15 feet to 18 feet in height, and weighing 17 tonnes paraceratherium orgosensis, grew so tall to reach leaves from the tallest canopies. Pygmy like rhinos lived all around the globe up to 50 million years ago. They largely had long legs and grew adaptions such as tusks. As years passed rhinos became more barrel shaped and grew shorter legs.
Of an interesting breed was the wholly rhino (coelodonta antiquitatis) which lived in the late Pleistocene era, and is believed to have existed up to the last glacial era, 11000 years ago. Recently a whole specimen was found in melting permafrost in the Abyisky region of Yakutia in north-eastern Russia which still had soft tissue, part of the genitals and nasal horn intact. It is believed the rhino was alive between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Scientists know that humans interacted with rhinos thousands of years ago. Cave drawings in the Lascaux Cave in France revealed depictions of humans hunting rhinos over 20,000 years ago.
Black Rhino: Browser vs White Rhino: Grazer
Being herbivores rhinos must consume a large quantity of plant life every day. With their prehensile lips, the black rhino is well adapted for eating by plucking low hanging leaves, twigs and sprouting plants. Even sharp thorned acacia bushes are a popular part of the black rhino’s diet. When food is scarce the black rhino will strip away bark to eat.
White rhinos, with their square, wide top lip are more suited to grazing, consuming large areas of grass every day. Even if the grass is brown it contains has nutrients so the white rhino will still graze.
Rhinos live in their own territories in which they feed and sleep in. males will mark trees with urine. When a female wanders on to a male’s territory they will often greet with a mouth nuzzle, though males will often barge into each other until one vacates the land.
Other Physical Differences of the Black and White Rhino
The ears of the black rhino are more softly round, while the ears of the white rhino are more pointed. Although, both species have excellent hearing, allowing the rhino to keep alert to unfamiliar sounds. Even when the animal is asleep the ears are constantly twitching. Both species have excellent powers of scent. Like elephants they are excellent at detecting which animals have entered their territory or if a baby has wandered away.
Both Rhino species have developed a useful way of communicating and finding out which other rhinos are in a territory. One by one they will drop dung onto the same pile and then scuff their hind feet in the pile. Each animal has its own scent so they can tell who’s footprints are who’s and if there’s a female ready to mate. The piles can become sizable at a few feet tall.
White Rhino: Dosile vs Black Rhino: Aggressive
Despite both animals looking very much alike they possess very different personalities. Black rhinos will often try to destroy any unaccounted (anything they don’t recognize) for items on their territory. Photographers have often left cameras over night only to return the next day to find they’ve been trampled upon in the dark. Aggressive outbursts by black rhino’s are unpredictable though are much more likely if calves are around.
White rhinos are far more docile and less solitary. While black rhinos are often seen alone but in the wild it is possible to see groups of up to fifteen white rhinos at a time.
Conservation Status of the Black Rhinoceros
The IUCN has currently labeled the black rhino as critically endangered. Thanks to determined conservation schemes across Africa, black rhino numbers have doubled from their historic low, 20 years ago, of less than 2500 to about 5,600 today.
Kenya has a goal to reach a population of 2,000 black rhinos by 2030. Organizations like https://www.helpingrhinos.org are helping Kenya achieve this target.
Conservation Status of the White Rhino
The IUCN has marked the white rhino as: Nearly threatened. 11670 wild white rhinos were reported alive in 2001. The success of the southern white rhino has improved with the ICUN reporting 17480 animals alive in 2007. Unfortunately, the last northern white rhino died in captivity in 2018.