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The rhinoceros is on of the iconic African animals. Though rarer, in some cases than the other Big Five, the rhinoceros is nevertheless well-known and loved by many. Like the elephant, the rhinoceros is a large animal that, despite its aggressive tendencies, seems have an air of calm contemplation about it.
There are two main species of rhinoceros that make Africa their home. The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhinoceros(Diceros bicornis) are two very different species though there are some similarities between the two. Ironically the names are of no real use in differentiating the two species, but there are characteristics that can be easily spotted if you know what to look for.
Both the white and the black rhinoceros have two horns on the front of their heads. These horns are made from keratin and are not hollow. Their horns are used for digging, marking their territory and defending themselves. These horns never stop growing throughout their lives and, barring accidents, can reach incredible lengths.
While they may be large and imposing creatures, white and black rhinoceroses suffer from terrible eyesight. They rely on their sense of hearing and smell to get around. Their ears are capable of turning towards the source of a sound and function like small satellites in picking up sound. Their sense of smell is by far their most powerful sense. The olfactory centre is larger than the rest of their brain allowing them to have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell. It is their sense of smell that can make hunting this animal a difficult task.
Both species live on the African continent in the sub-Saharan area. The white rhinoceros is more common in the southern reaches of the continent while the black rhinoceros is more often seen in the north eastern parts of the continent.
The white rhinoceros is the larger of the two species. Standing about 1.5 meters to 2 metres tall and up to 4 metres long, this behemoth can weigh up to 3 000 kilograms! They have a wide lip that is specially evolved for their grazing diet. White rhinoceroses also have a characteristic hump on their back that helps to support the weight of their head.
White rhinoceroses can live in groups, called a crash, of up to about 15 animals. Females and young tend to group together while the males remain solitary creatures that only seek out others when they want to mate. Since they have no natural predators, they can often live for up to 50 years – barring incident.
The black rhinoceros is smaller than the white and only reaches about 1.6 metres in height at the shoulder, reaches lengths of about 3.6 metres and can weigh up to about 1 400 kilograms. That is still large animal! Their lips are thinner and are designed to strip the foliage from plants instead of eating grass. In some specimens, a third horn can sometimes be seen growing behind the primary horns. The black rhinoceros does not have a hump.
Black rhinoceroses, unlike the white, are solitary creatures with the only groups being a mother and her calf. They only seek out others of their kind to mate though females have been known to band together for short times. The black rhinoceros is also more aggressive than the white rhinoceros with a tendency to attack anything it perceives as a threat, like an aggressive texas hold em player wanting the upperhand throughout the battle. Due to its poor eyesight (even poorer than the white's), these rhinoceroses have been seen attacking trees and other harmless objects.
The rhinoceros is one of the last megafauna still alive on the planet along with the elephant. The white rhinoceros is not considered to be in any danger at the moment though some of the sub-species are on the endangered list. The black rhinoceros is endangered and there are very few of them, only a couple thousand, still running free in the wild. The main reasons for the decline is poaching for their horns and the encroachment of humanity on their habitats.
Conservation efforts have proven, so far, to be successful in many cases. It seems that, for the time being, these giants of the savannah will continue to roam.
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