African Rhinoceros - Black and White

There are 5 kinds of rhinoceros.
Two kinds live in Africa and three kinds live in Asia.
Rhinos have horns on their noses.
Rhinoceros eat plants.

The closest living relative to rhinoceros is the horse.
The word 'rhinoceros' comes from two Greek words:
rhino meaning 'nose' and ceros meaning 'horned'.
There are five different species, or kinds, of rhinoceros.
Two kinds are in Africa and three are in Asia.
A rhinoceros has one or two horns on its nose, depending on what kind of rhino it is.
The hard, sharp horn is made of stiff matted hair, not of bone like the horns of other animals.

The two African species, the white rhinoceros and the black rhinoceros, are both two-horned. The horns of both these kinds of rhino are very long, some reaching 2 metres in length. The front, or primary, horns are the longer.

Rhinoceros horn is made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails. The horn is stiff, matted hair, compressed so that it is hard. Rhinos can sharpen their horns by rubbing them on rocks and trees.

Southern white rhinoceros female, or cow. The lower part of the primary horn shows the hair that the horn is made of.Image©kidcyber

Groups of black rhinos and white rhinos are found in different areas of Africa and are sometimes identified by the area, for example, there are northern and southern white rhinos. However, these are geographical details and the differences between these groups is not big.

Both the black and white rhinoceros have a large head, broad chest and thick legs. They are herbivores, which means they eat only plants. Rhinos have to eat a lot because of the way they digest their food: the food is processed (fermented, or broken down) in the part of the gut that is past the part that takes out nutrition for the body. So they have to spend most of the day eating in order to get enough nutrition for their huge bodies. Find out more here.

Rhinoceros have three toes on each foot, with a soft pad in the middle of the foot which helps to carry their enormous weight. They are very strong and powerful animals.

Rhinoceros have poor eyesight, but make up for it by having excellent senses of smell and hearing. Because they have little hair on their bodies, rhinoceros dig up mud with their horns, then roll in the mud to to keep cool, to keep their skin in good condition, and to keep insects from biting.

A female rhinoceros is pregnant for about 18 months before giving birth to a calf, which does not have a horn when it is first born. It starts to grow soon after birth.

A white rhino newborn calf. Image©kidcyber

Rhinoceros calves are able to walk and run about an hour after birth. When there is danger, they run in front of their mothers for safety. They suckle milk from their mothers. They stay with their mothers for 2 or more years.

The white rhinoceros is the largest of all five rhinoceros species - about 1.7 metres tall and up to three and a half tonnes in weight. It has a longer and heavier head than the other species. The head alone can weigh almost 1,000 kilos, so the white rhinoceros has a hump on its shoulder containing a mass of muscles just to support and move the head. Its mouth is wide and straight because it is a grass eater and the mouth shape makes it easier to graze.

Fun Fact
The white rhinoceros isn't white, and the black rhinoceros isn't really black! The white rhino gets its name from its wide mouth: the Afrikaans word for this rhino is weit, meaning wide. This was misunderstood as meaning white. So then the other kind of African rhinoceros was called black!

Actually, both are a greyish brownish colour, often depending on the colour of the mud they have been wallowing in.

The black rhinoceros is smaller than the white rhinoceros. It is a browser, which means it eats leaves of trees and shrubs. To help it do this, it has a a pointy upper lip that works rather like a finger, grabbing leaves and shoving them into the mouth. There is one group of black rhinoceros that has adapted to living in the desert. Read about them here.

Conservation status and threats
Rhinoceros species are endangered partly because their habitat is destroyed by humans, but mainly because they have been hunted and killed for their horns alone. Some people believe that dried, ground rhinoceros horn has magical medicinal powers to cure fever. In some countries, the horn is carved and polished and made into special dagger handles.
In some parts of Africa where rhinoceros lived, they are now gone. Killing rhinos is now illegal, but with protection in place there has in some locations been an improvement in numbers, although if poaching increases again, all species will soon become critically endangered.

Rhinoceros words:
A male is a bull, a female is a cow, a young one is a calf.
A group of rhinos is a crash of rhinos!

Find out more about African rhinos here
Find out about rhinoceros in southern Africa

Watch a video of southern white rhinos in Botswana, where it is hoped that a population can be established in the wild once again:

Wild Rhinos
More science lessons on Mammals at  

Sumatran and Javan rhinos
Indian rhinos

Back to Animals

If you use this in your own work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. African Rhinoceros [Online]

Updated August 2013©