White Rhinoceros

White Rhinoceros

White rhino, Square-lipped rhinoceros, Square Lipped Rhino

Ceratotherium simum
Population size
Life Span
45-50 yrs
42 km/h
1440-3600 kg
160-186 cm
3.4-4 m

Once on the verge of extinction, White rhinos have been successfully saved. Although these animals are now protected, they are still threatened by hunting for their horns. Thus, in South Africa, there has recently been recorded mortality among White rhinos, associated with poaching. Currently, efforts are put to stop poaching as well as illegal trade. White rhino is the second largest mammal in the world. An alternative name of this species is the "Square-lipped rhinocero", referring to the hairless, square upper lip of the animal. The word "rhino" derives from an Africaan's (West Germanic language) word, translated as "wide", as a reference to the broad muzzle of this mammal.


Nearly the entire population of this species, as much as 98.8%, is concentrated within South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. White rhinos are represented by 2 genetically different sub-species: the Northern White rhino sub-species and the Southern White rhinos. The former of these used to inhabit north-central Africa, regions south of the Sahara. Currently, the Northern White rhino sub-species is restricted to the Garamba National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other, Southern White rhino, sub-species is endemic to southern regions of Africa. Preferred types of habitat are grasslands and open savanna woodlands. Overall, White rhinos favor flatland terrains, dominated by bushes. These grazers constantly need areas with grass as well as water to drink and wallow in. Hence, White rhinos are sometimes seen in swampy habitats.

White Rhinoceros habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

White rhinos probably the most sociable rhinoceroses, forming groups of up to 14 individuals, although group size is usually smaller. Each group occupies a territory of at least 75-8 sq. km. Their territories vary greatly, depending on type of habitat as well as availability of resources. White rhinos are sedentary creatures that rarely venture from their home range. Dominant males of this species lead solitary lives, fiercely defending their territories against intruding males. However, females and juveniles may freely roam through their home ranges. Territorial behavior is displayed by marking such as spreading dung, spraying urine, dragging their feet as well as damaging plants with their horns. White rhinos generally tolerate other species. Although they rarely fight, these mammals may occasionally engage serious in confrontations, which include displays such as slight horn butting and false charges. The daily procedures of these mammals include mud baths, which help them to cool off and get rid of parasites. Peak hours of their activity differs through seasons: during winter they are diurnal, in summer seasons they are crepuscular.

Diet and Nutrition

The white rhino is herbivore (graminivore) mammal, maintaining a grass-based diet. The animal can survive 4 - 5 days without directly drinking water, although it will drink twice a day if possible.

Mating Habits

Year-round, peaks in summer and autumn
16 months
1 calf
2-3 years

Little is known about the mating system of White rhinos, although they are suggested to be polygynous. During the reproductive season, females come into males' territories to mate. Dominant, solitary bulls mate with each female for 1 - 3 weeks. The male and the female spend time chasing each other, clashing horns and communicating through various calls. After the lapse of this period, the female leaves. White rhinos may mate at any time of year, although they generally do so during summer and autumn months. A single calf is born after 16 months of gestation. The newborn baby weighs approximately 50 kg. The young rhino is quite active immediately after birth. Weaning occurs within 1 - 2 years old. At 2 - 3 years old, the young rhino is kicked away by its mother, who mates again. Males of this species are ready to breed at 10 - 12 years old, whereas females earlier - at 6 years of age.


Population threats

Unfortunately, these mammals are currently facing population decline along with other African rhinos. The primary threat to this species has been international rhino horn trade, which led to high numbers of mortality among these animals. There are two main markets for rhinos: Asian market - primarily, China, Taiwan and South Korea, where these animals are used in traditional medicine; and Middle Eastern market, generally, Yemen and Oman, where their horns are highly valued and considered a prized material, from which locals make traditional "jamiyas" - ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers. And finally, White rhinos suffer from loss of their natural habitat as a result of development such as agriculture and human settlements.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of White rhinos is around 20,170 animals, living in the wild. According to data of 2008, the overall number of individuals in captivity was only 750. Currently, White rhinos are classified as Near Threatened (NT), although their numbers continue increasing.

Ecological niche

White rhinoceroses are the most important herbivores across their range that graze on vast amount of grasses, they help to increase the biodiversity of grasses and potentially prevent the wildfires. In addition, white rhinoceroses have mutualistic relationship with several bird species, which feed on the insects, and parasites that are present in the hide and on the back of rhinoceroses.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • White rhino is the second largest terrestrial animal around the globe only to the African and Asian elephant.
  • The full name of rhino is "rhinocero" (translated as 'nose horn'), which is a combination of Greek words "rhino" (meaning 'nose') and "ceros" (meaning 'horn').
  • White rhinos are the most commonly found species of their family around the world.
  • White rhinos are believed to get their name due to a simple misunderstanding, since the word "white" in their name is taken from the Afrikaans word for "wide".
  • The horns of these mammals consist of keratin, from which our hair and nails are made.
  • The horns of these animals are an important mean of self-defence. They also use this part of their body during fights with rivals of predators. When threatened, group members come together in a circle. Mature animals stand facing outwards, while calves remain at the center of the circle to be protected.
  • White rhinos have a rather small brain for their body ratio. However, this does not affect their intellectual abilities.


1. White Rhinoceros Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_rhinoceros
2. White Rhinoceros on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/4185/0

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