White Rhino Diet

“Chomp chomp chomp.  Chomp chomp chomp.”  Music to my ears.  Listening to white rhino chew is one of the most soothing sounds I can imagine.  It is a soft, rhythmic sound that is also pleasant because, let’s be honest – an eating rhino is a happy rhino!  When white rhino are first captured from the wild and place into holding pens, they often become anorexic and might not eat for several days, some go so long that they have to be released again.  Fortunately, of the rhino I have spent time with from their initial capture, I haven’t had any I’ve had to release until they were safely translocated in good health.  Even so, it’s always nice to hear that munching, especially after it’s been absent for a while.

White rhino are grazers, meaning their diet is primarily different types of grass.  They have wide, flat lips not unlike lawnmowers.  One of the theories as to why white rhino are called white rhino, without being white, is that the Dutch settlers in South Africa used the descriptive term “wide” to describe them and that morphed into the term we use today, “white rhinoceros,” since white rhinos are actually gray and not white, as their name implies.  While this seems logical, there is not much proof supporting it in literature, so it remains debatable.  

Like black rhino, white rhino lack incisors or canines.  They have three premolars and three molars on each side of their jaw.  They begin to lose their deciduous teeth, or baby teeth, around age 5-6 and their second set of teeth are their permanent teeth.  As rhino age, their teeth wear down in a uniform manner.  The most accurate way to determine a rhino’s age is to examine the wear on his/her teeth. 

White rhino have extremely large heads that can weigh over 1000 pounds.  Their large, muscular humps on their necks help support that weight while they graze.  The heaviness of their heads, however, prevents them from raising their heads high for extended periods of time so they generally avoid deep water.  They do enjoy wallowing in mud or shallow water.





Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.