White Rhinoceros

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ceratotherium simum

  • SWAHILI NAME: Kifaru mweupe

Whether thundering across the savanna or trotting gracefully on its three-toed hooves, white rhinoceroses are one of the most arresting sights in Africa. A social animal, the white rhino has two horns—a long one at the end of its nose and a shorter one closer to its eyes—that protect its face. These horns are made of keratin—the same substance that makes up human hair and fingernails.

White Rhinoceros

White Rhinoceros

Type

Mammal

Daily Rhythm

Diurnal/Nocturnal

Diet

Herbivorous

Life span

In the wild: 35 to 50 years

Conservation Status

Near threatened

Weight

1.9 to 2.5 tons (1.7 to 2.3 t)

Size

5 to 6 ft (1.6 to 1.8 m) high at shoulder







White Rhinoceros

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Longer than a black rhinos's; frequently seen along worn trails or steep slopes
Scat: Uses middens; dark green when fresh, shading to black as it ages

White Rhinoceros tracks

Trivia Question

​What is a group of rhinos called?

Correct!

​A group of rhinos is called a crash.

Social Structure

Nearly as gregarious as elephants, white rhinos have complex social lives. Females stay with their calves for about three years (until the next calf arrives) and seek out other females for companionship. They form groups of six to 14 individuals. Adult males lead mostly solitary lives, meeting up with females only to breed. Males will share their territory with immature males so long as they remain submissive, but challenge and often fight outsider bulls that trespass on their territory.

Communication

Because they have very poor eyesight, white rhinos rely on both sound (calls, squeaks, snarls, and wails) and scent to communicate. They create middens, or piles of dung, at the borders of their territories. Because the dung is deposited by all of the rhinos in a territory and not just the dominant male, the middens convey information about the number and condition of rhinos in an area.

Behavior

White rhinos alternate between eating and resting during the day and night. They spend the heat of the day in the shade, often wallowing in water when it is available or rolling in dust. These rhinos sometimes gather in groups of as many as 12 individuals. Both males and females have two horns. Males use theirs mainly for establishing dominance or for threat displays, while females use theirs to protect their young. Unlike its black rhino cousin, the white rhino is a grazer and typically moves with its head lowered except when alarmed.

Conservation

More than a century ago, human hunting and habitat destruction drove white rhinos almost to extinction. Dedicated conservation, breeding, and reintroduction efforts have brought their population up to a “near threatened” level. Poaching and habitat loss still threaten their survival. Their horns are valued in traditional Asian medicine and for handles on ceremonial daggers in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Recent conservation efforts include microchipping all the rhinoceroses in Kenya, poisoning or painting their horns, or removing their horns altogether.

Range & Habitat

The northern white rhino, which once ranged across northern and central Africa south of the Sahara, was declared extinct in the wild in 2008. The southern subspecies lives primarily in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. A small population has been reintroduced into Kenya.

White rhinoceroses prefer wide, flat grassland and savanna. They favor areas with plenty of food, shady trees, hiding places, and water for drinking and wallowing.

Diet

A white rhino’s wide, flat mouth evolved for grazing on grasses. They regularly drink from water holes, although they can go without water for up to 5 days during dry spells.

Breeding

Males and females reach sexual maturity when they are four or five years old. Females typically reproduce when they are six or seven. Due to competition with older males, males don’t mate until they are 10 to 12 years old. Mating takes place any time of year that a female is in estrous. The male courts the female for a few weeks before mating takes place. Gestation lasts 15 to 16 months. The female temporarily leaves the group to give birth to a single calf that is able to stand and nurse usually within an hour. It begins grazing at two months. The bond between mother and calf is very strong, and a calf will stay with its mother for as long as three years—until about the time that the female is ready to mate again.

Friends & Foes

Small birds call oxpeckers accompany rhinos almost everywhere. Called askari wa kifaru (meaning “rhino guard”) in Swahili, they pick ticks off the rhinos’ skin and cause a commotion at the approach of any perceived danger. Adults rhinos have no predators except humans. However, rhino calves occasionally fall prey to lions, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, and Nile crocodiles.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Thanks to conservation efforts, more than 20,000 white rhinos now live in the wild, including 360 that were reintroduced into Kenya after being absent from East Africa for several thousand years. Of those, about 226 southern white rhinos live in Laikipia. A ranch near Mpala is home to four northern white rhinos that were saved from the wild.

White Rhinoceros

Did you know?

The word “white” in this animal’s name has nothing to do with its color. Rather, it evolved from weit, an Afrikaans word meaning “wide,” a reference to this rhino’s large, squared-off mouth.