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Rhino Fact Sheet

Rhinos belong to the same group of animals as horses; both are "odd-toed ungulates", or Perissodactyla. Rhinos have three toes, which leave distinctive tracks. They have thick skin which forms inflexible plates over the shoulders, haunches, sides, forehead and cheeks. Rhinos are surprisingly agile, despite their bulky appearance. They have poor eyesight, but exceptional hearing and an acute sense of smell. There are five species of rhinoceros, all of which are endangered.

The Status of the Rhinoceros

Southern White Rhino
(Ceratotherium simum simum)
Northern White Rhino
(Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
Black Rhino
(Diceros bicornis)
Great Indian Rhino
(Rhinoceros unicornis)
Javan Rhino
(Rhinoceros sondaicus)
Sumatran Rhino
(Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)

A female with her young is the basic social unit. Gestation (pregnancy) is 15-16 months. One young is born, which begins browsing vegetation when only 1 - 2 months old. Baby rhinos suckle for one year. A baby is usually born every 2 - 5 years. The previous offspring will be driven away before a new baby is born. Young rhinos become sexually mature at about 4-5 years old, but males are unlikely to be able to mate until they are about ten years old, because of competition with older males. Rhinos live for about 40 years.

Rhinos maintain over-lapping home ranges, which are between 2.6km2 and 130km2, depending on how much food is available. They mark the boundaries with faeces and urine. Rhino are fairly tolerant to animals that share their range, though they can be aggressive towards strangers. They use their horns during fighting and can cause serious injuries to one another. They keep track of each other's movements by visiting and contributing to middens.

White Rhinos:
Southern white rhinos are the most numerous of the rhino species and also the largest; they can weigh up to 2000kg. They were probably once abundant over all of the better-watered grasslands of Africa, including much of the present Sahara. At the beginning of the century, southern white rhinos were heading for extinction and only 10-20 individuals remained. There are now about 7,500. Over 90% are in South Africa. The northern sub-species is highly endangered and only a small remnant population of about 30 individuals remain, in Garamba National Park, in what was previously known as Zaire. Despite their name, white rhinos are dark grey in colour, like all rhinos. "White" may in fact be a corruption of the Afrikaans word for "wide". They are also known as the square-lipped or grass rhino. Their broad, flat mouth is ideal for grazing short grass.

Black Rhinos:
In the past, black rhinos lived in most of sub-Saharan Africa. In the late 1960s there were about 70,000, but now only 2,400 remain, in scattered pockets, mainly in east Africa. Black rhinos are browsers which use their prehensile upper lip to grasp twigs and branches when they are feeding. They are also known as browse or hook-lipped rhinos. Their preferred habitat is the edges of thickets and savannahs. They are naturally scarce or absent in forests and open grassland. They weigh up to 1400kg.

Greater One-horned or Great Indian Rhinoceros:
In the past, the species was found as far west as the Khyber Pass, which links the Indian subcontinent with Afghanistan, and along the foot of the Himalayas as far as Assam in the East. Now they occur only in isolated pockets of India and Nepal, with a total population of around 2000. 75% live in India, where there are only two, truly viable populations, which live in Kaziranga and Manas National Parks. The population in Kaziranga is now about 1,200. The second largest population, in Manas Park, now stands at just 12.

Sumatran Rhinoceros and Javan Rhinoceros:
At one time Javan and Sumatran rhinos ranges from Eastern India through south-east Asia. The Javan rhino inhabited the lowlands, while the Sumatran rhino favoured uplands. The Sumatran rhino is now found only in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak, and Kalimantan in Borneo. Both Javan and Sumatran Rhinos live in dense forest and are secretive, so records of their numbers are poor and they are seldom sighted. The current population is estimated to be just 270 individuals. The Sumatran rhino is the smallest and hairiest of the five rhino species, and is also known as the woolly rhino. It is thought to be a descendent of the prehistoric woolly rhinoceros depicted in Stone Age cave drawings. Complete carcasses of this creature have been found in Siberian permafrost. In July 1999 the first photographs of the critically endangered Vietnamese rhinoceros were obtained. These rhinos are a sub-species of the Javan rhino and there are thought to be only 5 - 8 of these elusive rhino still surviving.

Threats to Rhinos

Rhinos have remained unchanged for 60,000 years and are perfectly adapted to their habitat. They have the potential to be highly successful animals, but unfortunately human greed and superstition is threatening their very survival. They have been affected by habitat loss and fragmentation, but the main threat is poaching for their horns, which are used in traditional Chinese Medicine and to make ceremonial dagger handles.

Rhino horn is made from keratin, the same protein from which human hair and finger nails are made. Scientists from a Swiss pharmaceutical company found that rhino horn had no effect on the human body. The use of rhino as an aphrodisiac is a superstition, but still persists today in some cultures. It is probably perpetuated by dealers who want to maintain its price. According to CITES data, virtually all the rhino horn products on sale are exported from China, where medicines are manufactured. Over 30 countries are listed as destinations for the exports, though the main markets are in east Asia. Reputable practitioners of Chinese Medicine have condemned the use of endangered species in medicines.

Many rhino horns are destined for the Yemen, where they are in demand for use in decorative dagger handles. The daggers, known as jambiyyas, have traditional and symbolic worth and those with rhino horn handles are the most sought after, because rhino horn is thought to make a man invincible.

Protecting Rhinos
All species of rhino, except the southern white rhino are listed on Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits trade in them or their derivatives. Southern white rhinos are listed on Appendix II of CITES, but with a special annotation to the listing which prohibits trade in their horns. Illegal trade in rhino horn persists because of poor enforcement and because rhino horn is so valuable. South Africa's rhino population is now thought to be stable and there is pressure for the legalisation of trade in rhino horns from South Africa; a legal market for rhino horn would feed demand, encourage poaching and smuggling and complicate enforcement.

Rhinos only survive in protected areas. Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Swaziland have de-horned their rhinos in an attempt to discourage poaching. However, poachers who have spent several days tracking a rhino will often kill a de-horned rhino, to avoid the risk of wasted effort in the future. Even the disc of horn which remains after de-horning is valuable and can be sold.

How We Help:

  • BJWDF USA runs an adoption scheme which supports the reintroduction of orphaned black rhinos in Kenya.
  • BJWDF USA supports the Rhino Ark Aberdare Fence project.
  • BJWDF USA supports Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and their anti-poaching efforts.