The presently living rhinoceros are a well-defined group of animals whose members closely resemble each other, in spite of the fact that two of the species live on the African continent and three in Asia. The African rhinoceros are from a separate branch (subfamily Dicerotinae) which includes the present-day Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), which originally fed on foliage, and the Square-Lipped Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), also know as the White Rhino, which has become adapted for feeding on grass.

{short description of image}
Black Rhinoceros
{short description of image}
White Rhinoceros

Name: White and Black Rhinoceros
Scientific name: 
  • Black (Diceros bicornis
  • White (Ceratotherium simum)
Range: Africa, Mostly in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Habitat: White Rhinos are savanna dwelling grazers, while the Black Rhino is a browser living in forest and thorn scrub.
Status: Black Rhino is endangered, White Rhino is Vulnerable.
Diet in the wild: Water grass and leaves
Diet in the zoo: Hay, Lucerne chaff, horse cubes, carrots and bananas as a treat. 
Location in the zoo:  African Savannah

Physical description: 

Black Rhinos; Height 1.5 - 1.75 meters at center of back, average weight 4,500 pounds. Body length up to 3.75 meters. Their color is  brown; the tail is short. Although their eyesight is poor, both hearing and sense of smell are excellent. They have two large horns, the front one being the largest. These horns can measure up to 50 inches in length.  The horn of all rhinos is formed of hair-like keratin fibers pressed together.  The horns are found in both sexes.  The upper lip is prehensile and helps the rhino browse through and manipulate foliage as it feeds. 

Black rhino at Fort Worth Zoo
showing pointed upper lip

White Rhinos; Height 1.75 - 2.05 meters, weight between 3000 - 4000kg, head and body length 3.6 - 4.2 meters.  Hips are lower than the shoulders.Their color is light gray; the tail is short and tasseled. There are two horns on the snout; the front one is usually longer. The upper lip is very broad and squared-off -- in fact the "weit" upper lip was the original basis for mistakenly calling this animal a "white" rhinoceros!

White rhino close up, showing longer front 
horn and square lip

General information: 

Black rhinos are solitary animals, only coming together to mate. By contrast, the more gregarious white rhino only breeds successfully when there are small groups. The most lasting bond is between females and young, the calf staying with the mother for about five years. The black rhino is the more aggressive of the two species.  It can move at speeds up to 40 miles per hour for short distances -- the speed of a race horse! 

Rhinos have poor eyesight and are likely to charge any suspicious moving object without provocation.  Their hearing and sense of smell, on the other hand, are very good.

White rhino males mate with any estrous female within their territory after a long courtship session. Mating lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The female bears a single calf; the calf suckles for at least one year but can eat grass at two months. The calf lives with the cow for around 3 years until the next calf is born.

Black rhino with calf "Little One."

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations: 

Black Rhinos Courting
Male black rhinoceros mark their territories by spraying urine and scattering feces by rotating the tail. They also sleep in the shade or in mud during the hottest hours. Since it cannot sweat, it rolls in mud or dust to keep cool. 

 Rhinos are often accompanied by oxpeckers, tick birds and cattle egrets, which feed on insects stirred up by the rhino's feet, or living in the mud on their skin. 

White rhino with oxpecker
courtesy of Africam

Personal Observations: 

In the rhinoceros exhibit at the zoo I saw that there were  several white and black rhinos, including a calf. I noticed that unlike in the wild they would often have more than one white rhino male in an area and interestingly they did not seem to have a problem sharing the same territory. 

White rhinos face off in courtship display

Current research: 

White / Black Rhino, Class Mammalia, Subclass Eupheria, Order Perissodactyla, Family Rhinocerotidae, Genus Cerathotherium / Diceros, Species Simum / Bicornis, Status Vulnerable. 

Sexual maturity: Female: 4-5 years; first calf at 6-8 years. Males 7-8 years; first territory at 10 years. Gestation 16 mouths. Life span up to 40 years. 

Page author: Obi Ibeto. 

Email:  Ibeto@hotmail.com

{short description of image}
WhoZoo Home
Asian Rhinos at the Fort Worth Zoo
Mammal Index
Animal Index

Sources and Links

Fort Worth Zoo 

Black Rhino at the Smithsonian
International Rhino Foundation White Rhino
IRF Black Rhino
Namibian Black Rhino Project
Pennies for the Planet Year of the Rhino

Britannia Encyclopedia (on animals), Section R, 47-53.