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Black Rhinoceros: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Welcome to this comprehensive guide about the Black Rhinoceros, an iconic species of the African savannah. Known for its majestic horn and thick skin, the black rhino is a creature that symbolizes the raw yet vulnerable power of the wild.

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about this magnificent animal—from its biological classification and physical characteristics to its lifestyle and conservation status.

The Black Rhinoceros at a Glance

Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Order:Perissodactyla
Family:Rhinocerotidae
Genus:Diceros
Species:D. bicornis

Essential Information

Average Size:5.2–12.1 feet long (1.6–3.7 meters)
Average Weight:1,800–3,000 lbs (800–1,360 kg)
Average Lifespan:35–50 years
Geographical Range:Southern and Eastern Africa
Conservation Status:Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Black Rhinoceros, or Diceros bicornis, is usually categorized into eight subspecies. However, four of these are generally accepted as of today:

  1. South-central Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis minor): Primarily found in South Africa and Zimbabwe, it has a compact body and is the most numerous subspecies.
  2. South-western Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis bicornis): Native to Namibia and Angola, this subspecies prefers arid regions and has a straight mouth suitable for eating bushes.
  3. East African Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli): Mainly found in Kenya and Tanzania, it has a longer, more pointed, hooked-shaped lip and is more agile compared to other subspecies.
  4. Ethiopian Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis lasti): Found only in Ethiopia, it is the most endangered among the subspecies.

Each subspecies is adapted to its particular habitat, and slight variations in size and diet can be noticed.

Black rhino approaching

Description

The Black Rhinoceros is a majestic creature, immediately recognizable by its thick, armor-like skin and large horn (or horns as it often has a secondary smaller one).

The average adult black rhino measures between 5.2 to 12.1 feet in length (1.6 to 3.7 meters) and stands about 4.5 to 6 feet (1.4 to 1.8 meters) tall at the shoulder.

Males are generally larger than females and can weigh between 2,200 and 3,000 lbs (1,000 to 1,360 kg), while females weigh around 1,800 to 2,200 lbs (800 to 1,000 kg).

Their skin color is not actually black; it varies from brown to gray. A distinguishing feature is the pointed, prehensile upper lip that allows them to grasp leaves and twigs. Sexual dimorphism is not as pronounced as in other animals; however, males have thicker necks and larger horns.

Habitat and Distribution

The Black Rhinoceros can be found in various parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, including countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.

They adapt to a range of environments, from savannas and grasslands to forests and deserts. However, they are most commonly found in areas with thick brush and other forms of cover, which they use to hide from predators and humans.

Black rhino face

Behavior

In terms of behavior, the Black Rhinoceros is generally solitary. Males are particularly territorial and mark their area with feces and urine. These creatures are also known for their unpredictable temperament; they can be quite calm but can charge if they feel threatened.

They are generally diurnal, being most active during the morning and late afternoon. However, in hot climates, they may adopt more nocturnal habits to avoid the heat.

Communication among black rhinos is quite complex, involving a range of vocalizations, such as grunts, growls, and snorts, as well as physical cues like head movements. Their sense of smell and hearing are very sharp, compensating for poor eyesight.

In addition to their keen senses, black rhinos are also swift runners, capable of reaching speeds up to 34 miles per hour (55 km/h) for short distances.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Black Rhinoceros is primarily a herbivore, feeding on leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit. Their pointed, prehensile upper lip is specially adapted for grasping and pulling leaves from branches. Black rhinos can cover large distances in search of food and water, especially in more arid environments.

Predators

The Black Rhinoceros has few natural predators, given its size and strength. However, young rhinos and, to a lesser extent, adult rhinos can fall prey to large carnivores like lions, hyenas, and crocodiles. The more significant threat to this species is, unfortunately, humans, mainly due to poaching for their horns.

Black rhino with baby

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Black rhinos have a complex and rather long mating and reproduction cycle. Females reach sexual maturity at around 5-7 years, whereas males mature later, around 7-10 years. The gestation period lasts approximately 15-16 months, resulting in a single calf, though twins are exceedingly rare.

After birth, the mother and her calf have a strong bond, and she is highly protective of her young. Calves are born without horns and rely on their mother’s protection from predators. They will nurse for up to two years but will start sampling solid food within just a few days after birth.

Conservation and Threats

The Black Rhinoceros is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The primary threats facing this species are poaching and habitat loss.

Rhino horn is highly valued in traditional Asian medicine and for dagger handles in the Middle East, leading to intense poaching activities.

Several conservation programs are in place to try to protect this majestic animal, including anti-poaching patrols, community education programs, and translocation projects to establish new populations.

Fun Facts

  1. Remarkable Lips: The Black Rhinoceros has a prehensile lip that can grasp leaves and twigs, almost like a finger!
  2. Lone Wanderers: Unlike their white rhino cousins, black rhinos are generally solitary animals.
  3. Not Really Black: Despite its name, the Black Rhinoceros isn’t black. It is usually greyish.
  4. Two Horns: Black Rhinos typically have two horns, the foremost more prominent than the other.
  5. Charge Speed: A Black Rhino can charge at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Black Rhinoceroses called ‘black’?

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The Black Rhinoceros is actually grey in color. The name is thought to have been derived to distinguish it from the White Rhinoceros, which is also not white but named from a mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijde,” meaning “wide,” referring to its mouth.

Do Black Rhinos have good vision?

No, they have relatively poor vision but make up for it with acute senses of smell and hearing.

What is being done to protect Black Rhinos from poaching?

Various measures, including armed anti-poaching patrols, surveillance, and community-based conservation efforts, are being undertaken to protect Black Rhinos.

How fast can a Black Rhinoceros run?

A Black Rhino can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) when charging.

What is the Black Rhino’s horn made of?

The horn is made up of keratin, the same material found in human hair and nails.

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