This blog about rhinos was written by Nokwanda Mthembu. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.
Read time: 4 mins
What is a rhino?
A rhino is an abbreviation for rhinoceros. Rhinoceros are large herbivores which means they feed on plant matter and grass and they are characterised by their horned snouts. The word rhinoceros comes from the Greek word rhino which means nose and ceros means horn. Some have one horn and others have two horns. There are five species of rhino, including two African rhino species – the black and white rhinos – and three Asian rhino species which include Javan, Sumatran and greater one-horned rhino which is the only rhino with one horn.
Rhinos sometimes chew soil (geophagia) to supplement mineral deficiency.
A collective noun for a group of rhinos is a crash of rhino.
Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same protein which forms the basis of hair and nails.
The difference between the black rhino and white rhino
Rhinos don’t get their names from their skin colour. They are all grey in colour, but this depends on the soil colour of their environment as they often roll in mud and soil to help them keep cool in the summer heat.
The white rhino got its name from a misinterpretation of the Dutch name for white rhinos was widj neushoorn, which means wide rhinoceros – referring to its wide upper lip. However, early English settlers misunderstood widj for white, which is how they got their name. The white rhino is the second-largest land mammal on Earth.
In contrast, a black rhino can be distinguished from a white rhino by its hooked upper lip and is smaller overall. They also have a shorter head which they carry higher up on the shoulders to accommodate their browsing habits. Their ears are also smaller and rounder. The head of the white rhino is long and carried low – frequently only a few centimetres above the ground because they are grazers and grass makes 99% of their diet.
Black rhino prefers woodland with thickets and permanent water, while the white rhino prefers grassland and savanna. White rhinos also do not like closed forests or thick bushes.
Rhino bulls are territorial, and they occupy clearly defined territories which they defend against neighbouring bulls. Younger bulls are allowed to remain within a territory if they remain submissive.
To mark their territory, the bull will patrol well-used paths to establish and reinforce boundaries. While patrolling, he will spray urine backwards on the bushes. He will also rub his feet in the urine to get some of his scent on his feet to spread it as he walks.
The bull also uses the same spot to defecate; these spots are called middens. Everytime after defecating, he will kick open his dung using his hind legs to indicate to other bulls that this is his territory.
The cows and the subordinates males can use the territorial bull midden, but they won’t kick open the dung to show respect to the territory bull. If another bull comes and uses the midden and kicks open the dung, this is taken as a challenge to the bull occupying the territory. Bulls will fight using their horns, which means fights can get deadly.
Bushwise black rhino sighting
We were out on our afternoon drive. It was still early on our course and we were focusing on botany, learning how to identify trees and grass. After an hour of driving, we were looking for a nice spot to stop to enjoy some coffee and look at the beautiful African sunset when our trainer Daryn suddenly shouted, stop stop stop!!! Black rhino, there on the plains! Quick turn around!!!
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never seen a black rhino before. Imelda quickly turned the game viewer around and we went towards the black rhino. It was a very big male with a massive horn busy browsing. Even though it was starting to get dark and we were still quite a distance from him, he immediately reacted to our presence.
Rhinos have very poor eyesight; they can only see well at a very close range and can see movement at a greater distance. But their senses of hearing and smell are well developed, but they depend on the direction of the wind to carry sounds and smells to them.
After we had switched off the engine, his ears started moving – rotating independently in all directions to collect all the sounds around him. We all remain seated, watching him. There was no wind blowing, so while he knew that there was something out there because he’d heard the rolling engine, his poor eyesight and the lack of wind meant he didn’t know what had made it.
After a few minutes, he took a few steps, he was so curious – his ears were busy collecting sounds. He then took a few more steps until he was behind a small bush and he hid himself there. It was so funny because he thought that because he can’t see us, we also can’t see him. But we certainly could see his massive horn sticking out of the bush and also his giant body.
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