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AnimalsFun Facts

Africa’s wonderful Big 5 – The Rhinoceros

By July 2, 2015No Comments
White rhino.

Rhinoceroses have been roaming Earth for over 50 million years first as ancient rhinos before evolving in today’s rhinos. There were once even ‘woolly’ rhinos who lived in very cold climates. The word rhinoceros is a combination of two Greek words – rhino (nose) and ceros (horn). The name Rhino was given as a nickname.

The black and white rhino are native to the wild in Africa and can live up to the age of 40 years old.

Rhinos have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell and hearing. Their hairless and sensitive skin is grey in colour, and can be up to 5cm (2 inches) thick. A rhino has two horns which are made of the same substance as your hair and fingernails – keratin. They may be big animals but they can run faster than humans, up to 64 km’s (40 miles) per hour!

There are a number of other animals that have rhinoceros as part of their names, which all have horn like additions. 

The rhinos’ closest living relatives are tapirs, horses and zebras because they all are odd-toed ungulates meaning they have an odd number of toes on each foot. Rhinos have three toes on each of their feet.
Image from technologyprojects4kids

Differences between White and Black rhinos

The white rhino’s name is taken from the Dutch word, weit, meaning wide. It was called this because of its wide and square shaped mouth which makes munching grass easier. The English misinterpreted the word weit thinking it meant white! They are taller than black rhinos with longer necks and bigger heads. Their tails are longer and they have a rather pronounced hump above their shoulders.

The more aggressive black rhino has a hooked like lip so they can grip the leaves off of low-lying prickly trees and bushes. Unlike the white rhino which generally keep their heads down, black rhinos hold their heads up and forward.
White rhinos. Aren’t their ears adorable?


Both white rhinos and black rhinos live in the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. Rhinos tend to live where they do their eating. 

Black rhinos prefer living in bushy areas and white rhinos prefer the grasslands. Rhinos home ranges sometimes overlap with one another and their feeding grounds and waterholes are generously shared.

These shy animals will sometimes run towards anything unusual they come across in their surroundings, but will usually run away if they pick up on the scent of humans. However if you encounter a rhino in the wild you should stand as still as possible or climb the nearest tree.  

Rhinos use piles of dung as messages for other rhinos, each rhinos smell is unique and a rhino can detect the owner. The scent of a rhinos dung can tell other rhinos if they are young, old, male or female. They also communicate with one another using squeaks, snorts and grunts.
Black rhino with his ox pecker friends.

They have a symbiotic relationship with ox peckers, the rhinos let the birds eat the ticks off of them providing a food source, and the ox peckers let out a warning sound when they sense danger lurking.

The black rhino is usually solitary and the white rhino is more social sometimes living in groups called a crash.

Rhinos have an herbivore diet, meaning they are plant munchers. Black rhinos are browsers with short necks and hooked lips to pick leaves off low lying bushes, trees or shrubs while white rhinos are grazers, having long necks and wide mouths making nibbling on grass easier.
White rhino and baby.


Rhino usually give birth to one calve after a lengthy 15 to 16 months, but sometimes, although rare, they give birth to a set of twins.

Mother rhinos are protective of their babies and very nurturing. Their young stay with them till they are about 3                                                             years old until they wander off.

White rhino crashes stand in a circle and face outwards to form a rhino barricade protecting the calves in the centre.
Black rhino chilling in the mud.

Did you know?

Rhinos soak in mud for up to 3 hours at a time, using the mud as a form of sunblock against the harsh African sun.

When rhinos are happy they make a ‘’mmwonk’’ sound.