The horrendous scourge of rhino poaching has done inestimable harm to one of the most unique animal species on the planet. Though there are five rhino species in the world, currently only about 27,000 of them remain alive.
Africa has/had four subspecies of these iconic creatures, though the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011. Let’s take a closer look at one of these intriguing heavy-weight species of the bush, namely the black rhino, scientifically referred to as Diceros bicornis.
Black rhinos live from 40 – 50 years, and in essence they are now found only in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, with Namibia holding the largest, and thankfully growing population.
Below we’ll highlight five interesting facts about black rhinos, pinpointing some of their unique characteristics. We’ll also share the best places where you can still see these impressive and formidable creatures:
1. How Black Rhinos Differ from White Rhinos
Black rhinos have some notable differences from white rhinos, especially in size and behaviour. Black rhinos are smaller than white rhinos, though they still tip the scale at an impressive 1,350 kg/2,900 lbs for males, while females weigh in at up to 900 kg/1,980 lbs. Babies can weigh up to 45 kg/99 lbs at birth, and black rhinos stand approximately 1.6 m (just over 5 ft tall) at the shoulder. Their adult body length can reach 3.5 metres, or more than 11.5 feet.
Black rhinos are significantly more aggressive than their more placid white rhino cousins, and are more ready to charge at perceived threats. This makes them quite an exciting prospect to encounter in the bush… Colourwise, however, black and white rhinos are the same – they’re both grey!
2. They Have a Distinctive ‘Hooked’ Upper Lip
One of the most distinctive features of the black rhino is its pointed, slightly elongated upper lip. White rhinos have a significantly wider, square lip. These differences account for the fact that black rhinos are browsers, whereas white rhinos are grazers.
This means that black rhinos do not generally eat grass, but mostly feed on leaves from shrubs, thickets and low-growing trees. Their strong, prehensile upper lip is well-adapted for pulling leaves, twigs, shoots, fruit, seed-pods, berries and flowers from shrubs and trees.
Black rhinos eat up to 30 kg of plant matter per day, and produce up to 20 kg of dung a day. They are keystone species that shape their environment and distribute nutrients and seeds. Their habit of mud wallowing keeps water holes open and also disperses nutrient-rich soil. Black rhinos are one of the most popular animals to see on safari tours, so they boost the local economy through ecotourism.
3. They’re Solitary Creatures
Black rhinos are generally solitary, unlike white rhinos that tend to be more social. They typically roam on their own or with their calves, of which mothers are extremely protective. Black rhinos cover vast tracts of land in search of water and food, and mark their territories with piles of dung (called middens) and urine sprays.
They’re very territorial and will defend their territories aggressively, though this can vary according to habitat. Black rhinos have limited social interaction with other rhinos apart from mating and raising their calves, which is done solely by the females.
4. They’re Vocal Creatures
Black rhinos are surprisingly vocal animals and communicate using a variety of sounds. These vocalisations serve various purposes and can include squeaking, grunting, roaring (thought to establish territory), puffing, snorting, breathing calls, squealing, screaming, and even mooing! They even produce deep, resonant sounds that are thought to indicate a relaxed state.
These vocalisations convey information about their emotions, status and intended behaviours and play a vital role in rhino communication. Their vocalisations can signal danger and alert other rhinos to their presence. They’re also a way for a mother to call her calf and a very important way for a calf to communicate with its mother.
5. They’re Surprisingly Speedy
Despite their bulk and seemingly clumsy build, black rhinos can produce a truly impressive display of speed! They can reach a top speed of approximately 55 kilometres or 34 miles per hour which makes them one of the fastest land mammals around.
Being this fast is essential for their survival, as it allows them to escape from predators. They’re also remarkably agile which stands them in good stead in navigating and manoeuvring through their diverse habitats and terrains.
6. They are Critically Endangered
Once found throughout Africa, black rhino numbers have crashed so that they currently stand on the brink of extinction. Estimated to have numbered well over 850,000 individuals in the early 1900s, currently only an estimated 6,000 black rhinos survive in isolated pockets in Africa as a result of poaching and hunting.
An all-time low of about 2,500 animals was reached in the 1990s. The demand for rhino horn products for traditional Asian medicine and ornamental purposes has escalated in mostly Asian countries, Vietnam and China in particular, though the trade has been banned since 1977.
This dire, absurd, and deadly situation has arisen despite the fact that rhino horn is worthless! It has no medicinal value whatsoever and consists of the same substance, keratin, that our hair and nails are made of. Yet the black market trade in rhino horn products has seen rhinos decimated in ever-increasing numbers for years. As a result, and despite some recent recovery due to concerted conservation and anti-poaching efforts, black rhinos are still critically endangered today.
Black Rhino Conservation Bodies
The following organisations collaborate globally to combat rhino poaching, habitat loss, and other threats to rhinos. They attempt to show local communities that the tourism value of rhinos far outweighs the one-off value of an animal’s horn, the harvesting of which kills the animal. All these bodies are dedicated to the cause of saving these unique creatures.
International Rhino Foundation: The IRF is actively involved in black rhino conservation efforts. They work to protect rhino populations and their habitats, often collaborating with local communities to promote coexistence between humans and rhinos.
Save the Rhinos – African Parks: This organisation plays a significant role in safeguarding rhino populations in various African parks and reserves, including black rhinos.
The World Wildlife Fund: The WWF is committed to rhinoceros conservation, including black rhino. They work on initiatives such as black rhino expansion that aims to increase black rhino numbers in South Africa.
African Rhino Specialist Group: The AfRSG focuses on guiding and facilitating the conservation of viable African rhino populations, including black rhinos, across their natural ranges and habitats.
Save the Rhino International: This organisation is active in a wide range of rhino conservation initiatives, including rhinos in zoos.
National Zoo Global Health Program: They provide information on how to save black rhinos and participate in global health initiatives to protect them.
Best Places to See Black Rhinos:
For a memorable safari experience, consider visiting the following locations renowned for their black rhino sightings:
- Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya: Known for its black rhino conservation efforts, Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers a secure environment for these creatures. It houses the last two northern white rhinos in the world, Najin and Fatu. Ol Pejeta Bush Camp and Porini Rhino Camp both offer superb accommodation.
- Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, South Africa: This park is a haven for black rhinos, providing excellent opportunities to observe them in their natural habitat.
- Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe: This park is home to a significant population of black rhinos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also offers opportunities for some of the best and most rewarding wildlife safaris in Africa.
- Hoanib Valley Camp, Namibia: Offers unique desert-adapted black rhino tracking experiences.
- Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania: This wildlife paradise is perfect for seeing black rhino. The relatively small size of this crater virtually guarantees black rhino sightings.
Are you determined to see one of Africa’s most iconic and critically endangered animals, the black rhino? As acknowledged wildlife safari experts of many years standing, Discover Africa is on hand to arrange your trip to Africa to see these formidable and enigmatic creatures in their natural habitats.