Because the upper lip of a black rhino is pointed like a finger and can even grasp, the gray giants got their name.
What do rhinos look like?
Rhinos are true colossuses and the second-largest land mammal after elephants. A black rhino measures up to 3.50 meters from nose to bottom and weighs up to 1500 kilograms. It is 1.60 meters high from floor to shoulder. Even more powerful is the white rhino. It is the largest species of rhino, growing up to 3.80 meters long. It measures 1.50 to 1.80 meters from the floor to the shoulder. The males weigh 1.8 to 3 tons, some even up to 3.5 tons. The females weigh 1.8 to 2 tons.
Typical of both rhino species are their massive build with the neck hump, the slightly sagging back, the short legs, and the gray color. The tail is 70 centimeters long and has a tassel of black hair at the end. Its trademark is the two pointed horns on its nose: the front one is slightly longer than the back one. The black rhino is usually up to 50 centimeters long, the white rhino is up to 100 centimeters long.
The horns consist of a sticky, extremely solid horn mass, the keratin. If the horn is injured or broken off, it grows back. Rhinos are real “pachyderms”. Their skin is an average of two centimeters thick, and up to four and a half centimeters on the neck. It protects the animals from injuries caused by thorns and attacks by other animals.
Bristly black hair only grows on the ears, eyelids, and tail. Otherwise, they are hairless. The head is quite squat. The ears are relatively large and cone-shaped, especially in the white rhinoceros. The eyes are tiny in relation to the size of the animals. Like all rhino species, the animals have no front teeth, only molars for grinding their plant food.
Where do rhinos live?
Black and white rhinos are found exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa. They used to be widespread in all savannas of Africa. Today they only live in a few areas. In some countries where the animals were already extinct, they have been successfully reintroduced. Both species are found in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. The black rhino is also at home in Angola, Rwanda, and as far north as Tanzania and Kenya. The white rhino is now all but extinct in East Africa.
The two rhino species live mainly in grass and bush savannahs or at the edges of forests and in sparse forests from the lowlands to 3500 meters above sea level. To survive, they absolutely need drinking water and mud baths.
What species of rhino are there?
There are five species of rhino in the world today. The black and white rhinos live in Africa. Three rhino species live in Asia, all of which are very endangered and almost extinct: the Indian rhino, the Javan rhino, and the Sumatran rhino. The Indian rhino lives in Nepal, Assam, and Bhutan. The Javan rhino is found on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as in Malaysia and Burma.
In November 2019, the last Sumatran rhino found in Malaysia died. The remaining only about 80 Sumatran rhinos live widely scattered in Indonesia. There were also rhinos in Europe in prehistoric times: These included the woolly rhino, which was common in the Ice Age but has long since died out.
How old do rhinos get?
White rhinos live to be 40 to 50 years old. Black rhinos have a life expectancy of up to 45 years.
How do rhinos live?
Rhinos can hear very well and smell very well. If the wind is favorable, they can detect smells from over 700 meters away. But their eyes are relatively weak: Even at a distance of 20 to 30 meters, they can hardly see anything clearly. It is surprising how fast these large, massive animals can run: a black rhino can reach a speed of up to 50 kilometers per hour, a white rhino can still manage 40 kilometers per hour.
The animals can change direction very quickly and even scare predators that get too close. Black rhinos only really wake up at dusk and at night. During the day they rest and sleep in shady places or wallow in the mud of the waterholes. White rhinos are active both day and night, but also retreat to the shade of bushes and trees during the hot midday. And while black rhinos are solitary, white rhinos tend to be more social. They often live in small groups of up to six animals. The groups consist mainly of females with their young. Adult males usually roam the savannah alone.
Rhinos love mud baths more than anything: it nourishes their skin and gets rid of insects and other parasites. In addition, a mud bath cools down the large body. This is important because the animals do not have sweat glands and therefore easily overheat in the hot climate of their homeland. In the dry season, when there are no mud baths, the animals roll in the sand instead.
The two African rhino species got their name from the shape of their upper lip. This is adapted to the forage plants of the animals. The black rhino has a finger-shaped, pointed upper lip that it uses to grip. With this so-called gripping lip, it plucks leaves from bushes and trees. The white rhino has a broad, straight lip that it uses to graze on grass.
Because of their different food preferences, the two species can be distinguished from afar by their attitude: Black rhinos tend to hold their heads high as they look for leaves on trees. White rhinos, on the other hand, roam the savannah with their heads down, looking for their favorite grasses on the ground.
Both African rhino species have territories to which they usually remain loyal for a very long time. The size of the territories depends on how much food and water they provide. Territories of black rhinos are six to 40 square kilometers in size, those of white rhinos up to 15 square kilometers. Territories are marked with piles of excrement and urine, and the animals always use the same paths there, resulting in clearly recognizable paths.
Black rhinos are more aggressive than white rhinos, which are considered to be quite peaceful contemporaries. Disputes are usually only between the males. And real fights, in which they also use their horns, are rare. Usually, the cops just run towards each other and stop just before the opponent.
From time to time it is reported that rhinos also attack humans – especially females who have a young. However, serious accidents are rare.
Friends and foes of the rhino
Apart from humans, adult rhinos have no enemies – they are just too strong and can defend themselves very well with their horns. Lions or hyenas can only be dangerous for the calves if the rhinoceros mother doesn’t watch out for them.
All rhinoceros species were and are mercilessly hunted down by humans because their horns are considered trophies and in some countries a remedy for which any price is still paid today. Although they are now protected, they are still being hunted down by poachers.
How do rhinos reproduce?
Female black rhinos become sexually mature at four to six years, female white rhinos at six to seven years. A female ready to mate repeatedly marks her surroundings to attract males with her scent. Then it also happens that two rhino bulls fight over a female and fight violently with each other. After the bull has courted the female for a few days, mating occurs.
The rhino calf is born about 18 months later. Only one young is born at a time. But this is already a heavyweight at birth: white rhino babies weigh 40 to 60 kilograms, black rhino babies 25 to 40 kilograms. The little ones are covered with dark fur that later falls out. They don’t have horns yet, just a small hump on their noses and a light spot on their foreheads. The horns grow in these places after about five weeks.
Shortly after birth, the calf can drink from its mother and even walk after a few hours. It is suckled by the mother, but soon also eats grass or leaves. After a year, it already weighs over 400 kilograms.
The black rhino offspring are independent after two years, the white rhino after two and a half to three years. Then the mothers expel their young and are ready for a new mating.
How do rhinos communicate?
Rhinos can grunt, snort, sigh, roar, and even trumpet similar to elephants. Usually, the males are more audible than the females. However, many of their sounds are so deep that we humans cannot hear them. Rhino calves squeak, growl, moan, snort or howl.