Despite their names, black rhinos aren’t black and white rhinos aren’t white—both species are actually grey. Their distinguishing feature is not their skin, but rather the shape of their lips: black rhinos have pointed lips, while white rhinos have square ones.
Their names don’t come from the colour of their skin, but instead, a supposed misunderstanding. It is said that Dutch settlers referred to the white rhinoceros as having a wijde (wide) lip, but the English misheard this as “white.” Believing that square-lipped rhinos were known as white rhinos, they called the other species black rhinos.
Historically, black rhinos could be found across the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa, with more than one million individuals roaming the land at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1995, though, their numbers had declined by as much as 96% and their range had shrunk to just a few countries on the east and west coasts of southern Africa.
Because the temperatures in their habitats can get quite high, rhinos limit their movement to stay comfortable. They indulge in an activity called “wallowing,” rolling around and lounging in shallow pools of mud to keep themselves cool and protect their skin from the sun and insects.
Black rhinoceros play a vital role in their ecosystems, not only helping other animals, but local humans too. As large vegetarians, rhinos eat up to 30 kilograms of plant matter per day. This helps shape the African landscape by reducing competition and keeping different species of plants in balance. Black rhinos are also one of the most popular animals to see on safari tours, so they support the local economy through ecotourism.
What is a black rhino’s scientific name?
The scientific name of the black rhino is Diceros bicornis, which translates as “two horn two horn.”
There are three subspecies of black rhino in Africa: the eastern black rhino, known as Diceros bicornis michaeli, the southern central black rhino, known as Diceros bicornis minor, and the south-western black rhino, known as Diceros bicornis bicornis (which amusingly translates as “two horn two horn two horn”).
Are black rhinos endangered?
Black rhinos have been listed as critically endangered by the IUCN since 1996. Although their population trend is currently listed as increasing, the devastating reduction in their numbers during the 20th century still impacts the species today.
The most urgent threats that black rhinos face are illegal poaching for their horns, habitat loss due to human intrusion, and climate change. Continued conservation efforts are needed to keep bolstering their numbers and improve their conservation status.
Where do black rhinos live?
Black rhinos live in small pockets of Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. They have also been reintroduced to Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia.
Black rhinos can live in a range of habitats, including semi-desert savannahs, woodlands, forests, and wetlands. To be suitable for black rhinos, the area needs to have a large amount of woody vegetation to eat, plentiful water sources, and mineral licks.
Population density within these habitats varies depending on the amount of food available. Black rhinos are largely solitary animals and can have as much as 100 square kilometres of space to themselves.
Black rhinos are one of two species of rhinoceros that live in Africa. There are three species of rhinoceros that live in Asia.
Poaching, illegal trade, and habitat loss are all urgent threats facing black rhinos today. Because black rhinos have slow reproduction rates (females typically have just one calf every two to four years), their numbers are slow to recover.
Black rhinos are hunted for their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine and as decorative luxury items. Poaching was rampant between 1970 and 1990, wiping out up to 96% of the population.
Unfortunately, poaching activities are still frequent and hinder conservation efforts. Between 2008 and 2021, an estimated 11 thousand African rhinos were poached, many of which were black rhinos.
As agriculture, plantations, mining, tourism, and other human settlements continue to expand in Africa, the black rhino’s habitat decreases.
When their habitat shrinks or becomes fragmented, territorial black rhinos are forced to live closer together, which not only lowers their breeding rates but also increases the spread of disease and often leads to clashes and fights.
Habitat loss also reduces the amount of suitable land available for conservation efforts. Without an intact habitat, rhinos cannot be reintroduced into their historical range.
Climate change is another leading cause of rhinoceros habitat loss. Ecosystems are highly complex and fragile, and the effects of changing climates in recent decades are becoming more apparent. For example, at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, 15% of the wooded areas have become grasslands over the last 30 years due to changes in rainfall patterns. The black rhinos that relied on these wooded areas can no longer live in this space.
What do black rhinos eat?
Black rhinos are “browsers,” which means they eat high-growing vegetation out of trees and shrubs. Using their pointed lip, they pluck leaves, shoots, and fruit straight from the plants.
Are rhinos herbivores?
Yes, rhinos are herbivores. In fact, they are one of the few remaining “megaherbivores” left on Earth (a type of herbivore species that can weigh more than 1,000 kilograms).
How many horns does a black rhino have?
The black rhino has two horns made from keratin, the same protein as human fingernails. Like fingernails, horns grow continuously throughout a rhino’s life and can be trimmed without causing pain. The front horn is always longer than the back one and can reach lengths of up to 50 centimetres.
How much does a rhino weigh?
Black rhinos weigh between 800 and 1,400 kilograms, making them an average-sized rhino. On the heavier side, white rhinos can weigh up to 4,000 kilograms, and the smallest rhino, the Sumatran rhino, weighs around 600 kilograms.
How fast can a rhino run?
Despite their size, rhinos can move very quickly. Black rhinos are the fastest, reaching speeds of up to 55 kilometres per hour. This makes them much faster than any human on record and explains why charging rhinos are so dangerous.
Other rhino species also reach fairly high speeds, with white rhinos averaging between 40 and 50 kilometres per hour, Javan rhinos hitting 48 kilometres per hour, and Indian rhinos managing around 40 kilometres per hour.
What is a group of rhinos called?
A group of rhinos is called a “crash,” but black rhinos are rarely found in groups. Males and females pair up to mate, but the male will leave well before the calf is born. Since rhino mothers only give birth to one calf at a time, it’s rare to see more than two black rhinos together.
How many black rhinos are left?
The IUCN estimates that there are around 3,142 mature black rhinos left in Africa. This doesn’t count rhinos under the age of 5.
IFAW has a dedicated team of rangers working to protect rhinos in Africa, on the border between Zambia and Malawi. In Kenya, IFAW’s Team Lioness also works to combat poaching and promote coexistence between rhinos and humans. Team Lioness is made up of Maasai women who are the first women in their families to secure employment.
At a policy and advocacy level, our teams worldwide always work to reduce demand for rhino horn products and ensure markets remain closed.
How can you help?
If these black rhino facts have inspired you to get involved with our conservation efforts, you can show your support by making a donation today. To find out more about all of the animals our projects support, read more here.