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White Rhinoceros

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium Simum) at Colchester Zoo, UK.A close-up of a White Rhinoceros at Colchester Zoo, UK.White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)Rhinoceros from Werribee Open Range Zoo, Victoria, AustraliaWhite rhino cow and calf at Pilanesberg Game Reserve, South Africa
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White Rhinoceros Facts

Kingdom:
Five groups that classify all living things
Animalia
Phylum:
A group of animals within the animal kingdom
Chordata
Class:
A group of animals within a pylum
Mammalia
Order:
A group of animals within a class
Perissodactyla
Family:
A group of animals within an order
Rhinocerotidae
Genus:
A group of animals within a family
Ceratotherium
Scientific Name:
The name of the animal in science
Ceratotherium simum
Type:
The animal group that the species belongs to
Mammal
Diet:
What kind of foods the animal eats
Herbivore
Size:
How long (L) or tall (H) the animal is
3.4-4.2m (11-14ft)
Weight:
The measurement of how heavy the animal is
1,440-3,600kg (3,168-7,920lbs)
Top Speed:
The fastest recorded speed of the animal
42km/h (30mph)
Lifespan:
How long the animal lives for
45-50 years
Lifestyle:
Whether the animal is solitary or sociable
Solitary
Conservation Status:
The likelihood of the animal becoming extinct
Near Threatened
Colour:
The colour of the animal's coat or markings
Brown, Grey, Black
Skin Type:
The protective layer of the animal
Leather
Favourite Food:
The preferred food of this animal
Grass
Habitat:
The specific area where the animal lives
Tropical bushland, grassland and savannas
Average Litter Size:
The average number of babies born at once
1
Main Prey:
The food that the animal gains energy from
Grass, Fruit, Berries, Leaves
Predators:
Other animals that hunt and eat the animal
Human, Wild cats
Special Features:
Characteristics unique to this animal
Hard, thick skin and two large horns

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White Rhinoceros Location

Map of White Rhinoceros Locations
Map of Africa

White Rhinoceros

“The largest of all rhino species”

Known for its square upper lip, large two horns, and incredible size, the white rhino once roamed across southern and northern Africa. 

At the start of the 20th century, the white rhino population dwindled to as few as 50 individuals. Today, the white rhino shows both the promise of conservation for the species, and the incredible threats still facing it. While the Southern white rhino has seen its population rebound so strongly that it’s no longer endangered, the Northern white rhino is now functionally extinct with just two females remaining. 

Incredible White Rhino Facts!

  • Incredibly fast charging speed: The white rhino's top speed can exceed 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)!
  • Recently extinct subspecies: In 2018, the Northern white rhino was declared functionally extinct when the last male passed away. 
  • Record size horns: White rhino horns can reach up to 150 cm (59 inches)!

 

White Rhino Scientific Name 

The white rhino’s scientific name is Ceratotherium simun. The word “Ceratotherium” is derived from the Greek words for “horn” and “beast” while “simun” is for Greek for flat nose. 

As their signature feature, the scientific name of every rhino species references their “horn.” However, the white rhino is the only species whose scientific name references a flat nose. 

White Rhino Appearance 

If you’re looking at the rhino pictures on this page, you’ve noticed the species is actually more gray. 

That’s because the name “white rhino” actually comes from a mistranslation! Dutch settlers in South Africa began calling the species the “weit” rhino, which is the Afrikaans word for “wide.” The description applied to the white rhino’s unique square mouth. 

However, English settlers mistranslated the name, instead calling the species the “white rhino!” 

When comparing white rhinos to the other species that lives across Africa – the black rhino – the white rhino’s mouth is square while black rhinos have a more triangular mouth. 

The white rhino has a number of distinct physical characteristics such as the large “hump” across its back. This hump is a muscle mass that’s evolved to support the species massive head. Another key defining feature of white rhinos is their size, which is the largest among rhino species. 

White Rhino Profile View
A White Rhino
 

White Rhino Weight 

The white rhino can weigh up to 3,600 kg (7,920 pounds), making it the second largest land animal on earth after the elephant! 

White rhinos are large from birth, a baby recently born at the San Diego Zoo exceeded the size of a fully grown adult human just 19 days after birth when it weighed in at 193 pounds (87 kg). 

Males can grow significantly larger than females, reaching that top weight of nearly 4 tonnes. Females are generally significantly smaller, weighing on average about ¾ the weight of a male when fully grown. 

White Rhino Top Speed

For such a large species, the white rhino has incredible acceleration and can reach speeds that exceed 30 miles per hour (about 48 kilometers per hour). 

For comparison, the world’s fastest recorded human was Usain Bolt, who hit 27 miles per hour! The top speed of white rhinos also exceeds that of other large African land mammals such as elephants or hippos. 

Why do rhinos charge? The species has evolved excellent hearing and smell, but its vision is reportedly very poor and near-sighted. Charging allows rhinos to defend themselves against unfamiliar objects. It can be very common from mothers defending calves, and males defending their territory. 

White Rhino horn 

White rhino horn can grow to the largest sizes among all rhino species. In a 2006 study, Dr. Nico van Stein measured a 150 cm (59 inch) white rhino horn! 

The larger of the white rhino’s two horns typically is about 90 cm (35 inches) in length while the second horn is smaller and typically does not exceed 60 cm (24 inches). 

Unlike other species whose horns or antlers are attached to their skull, rhino horns are made of keratin, a material you’ll also find in your fingernails! This also means that if rhino horns are cut off (without cutting into their skull) they can grow back within about three years. 

Northern vs. Southern White Rhino 

There are two subspecies of white rhino, the Northern and Southern. The main difference between the two is size. Northern white rhinos are smaller. Their head, horn, width, and length are all smaller than southern white rhinos. On average, northern white rhinos are 2/3 the weight of fully grown southern white rhinos. 

In addition, Northern white rhinos have a flatter back, lacking the very pronounced “hump” found on most Southern white rhinos. 

White Rhino Habitat

White rhinos are one of two rhino species that live across Africa. Their preferred habitat is large grasslands, though increasingly their population is concentrated in natural reserves where they can be protected. 

The Northern white rhinoceros range once spanned across South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Uganda. However, poaching dramatically reduced the range of Northern White Rhinos. Today, Northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild aside from the two remaining females that have been introduced into Ol Pajeta Conservancy in Kenya. 

The Southern white rhinoceros historically ranged from South Africa, to Bostwanna, Namibia, Zimbabwe and other neighboring countries. Today, their population is concentrated at a number of national parks such as Kruger national park, where an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 white rhinos live in a single nature preserve. 

White Rhino Population -- How Many White Rhinos Are Left?

As of 2019, it is estimated that are about 18,000 white rhinos living in the wild. In the early 20th century the white rhino population numbered as few as 50 individuals so this rebound has been an incredible conservation success story. However, white rhinos today remain under threat. 

Precise estimates of White rhino populations are difficult because of high rates of poaching. It is estimated that more than 80% of the African rhino population lives in South Africa, and as you can see from the chart below, poaching has significantly escalated in recent years:

South African Poaching Deaths By Year 2007 to 2018 

Data: South African Department of Environmental Affairs

200713
200883
2009122
2010333
2011448
2012668
20131,004
20141,215
20151,175
20161,054
20171,028
2018769

While the Southern white rhino has seen its population rebound, the Northern white rhino is a different story. Its populations never rebounded from early 20th century poaching and in March 2018 the last surviving male white rhino died, leaving a population of just two females remaining. 

White Rhino Predators

As the largest of the rhino species white rhinos face few predators. As adolescents they face threats from lions, crocodiles, and other larger carnivores like big cats, hyenas, and wild dogs. 

Once grown to full size, white rhinos face few threats from predators. The species not only possesses long horns and high top speeds, but also has thick skin that serves as a form of “natural body armor.”  This provides an additional form of protection from larger predators like lions. 

The top predator of rhinos remains humans. Poaching deaths in South Africa reached a peak of 1,215 rhinos in 2014 and have since fallen, but remain substantially higher than last decades. Most rhinos live on either private reserves or natural parks where they’re actively protected by armed guards and security. 

White Rhino Diet 

White Rhinos live on vast savannahs that are best suited to their diet of grasses. What white rhinos eat differs from the other African rhino species, the black rhino. While black rhinos have a triangular shaped mouth that allows them to eat vegetation from trees and bushes, white rhinos keep their grazing to the ground. The distinctive feature that gave white rhinos their name—their wide, squared shaped mouth – is an evolutionary adaption to allow them to graze incredible amounts of grass each day. 

Due to their massive size, white rhinos must consume more than 120 pounds of grass each day!

White Rhino Reproduction and Life Cycles

White rhinos have one of the longest gestation periods of all animal species at about 500 days. This long gestation period follows a pattern where larger mammal species have longer development periods before birth. 

  • African Elephant: 645 days

  • White Rhino: 500 days

  • Giraffe: 430 days

  • Human 270 days

  • Bear (grizzly): 215 days

After giving birth, white rhinos typically don’t give birth again for an additional 3 to 4 years. This long gestation period and extended length between birthing new calves has made repopulating rhinoceroses an especially challenging problem. 

How long do white rhinos live? The oldest white rhino in captivity died on November 14, 2018 at the age of 55. Life expectancy in the wild can reach 50 years, though as rhinos suffer from skin and digestive tract ailments as they age. 

White Rhinos in Zoos 

As of December 2018, there were 302 zoos with 1,037 rhinos. The white rhino is the most common rhino found in zoos, with a population of 671 white rhinos across the world. 

Select zoos where you can see a white rhino in person! 

White Rhino Facts 

  • What is a group of rhinos called?

    • Groups of bees are called swarms. A group of camels is a caravan. And the unique name for a group of rhinoceroses is a “crash!” 

  • The last male Norther white rhino has passed away 

    • The last male Northern white rhinoceros died in captivity at a conservatory it’d been introduced into in Kenya on March 19, 2018. The loss of the last male makes Northern white rhinoceroses functionally extinct, although two females remain. 

  • Armed security to protect the last Northern white rhinos

    • The last two remaining female Northern white rhinoceroses are protected around the clock by armed security. 

  • A new rhino species?

    • The white rhinoceros could actually be two different species! A recent study from 2010 concluded that the Northern white rhino was actually a sixth rhino species rather than being a subspecies of white rhino. This study isn’t universally accepted, but makes the passing of the last male Northern white rhino especially saddening. 

  • The Southern white rhino is one of only two rhino species that’s not critically endangered

    • Thanks to populations that have rebounded to an estimated 18,000 individuals, the white rhino today is listed as “Near Threatened.” The Indian rhino is listed as “Vulnerable” while the three other rhino species (black, Javan, and Sumatran) are all currently critically endangered. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are white rhinos endagered?

As a species, the white rhino is no longer endangered. Today its status is listed as 'Near Threatened.' This conservation status of the white rhino no longer being endangered is due to populations increasing. Today, more than 2/3 of rhinos across the world are white rhinos. However, while the species as a whole is no longer endangered, the Northern white rhino subspecies is listed as "Critically endangered." With the last male Northern white rhino having passed away in 2018, the species is now functionally extinct. 

 

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First Published: 5th December 2008, Last Updated: 2nd January 2020

Sources:
1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]
2. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2011]
3. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2010]
4. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]
5. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2009]
6. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]