White Rhino

Common Name: White Rhinoceros
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Rhinoceridae
Genus: Ceratotherium
Species: Ceratotherium simus

photo:  M Noonan

White Rhino Taxonomy/Description

The White rhino's scientific name is Ceratotherium simus, which means "flat-nosed horned beast". Flat nose is used to describe the White rhino because the white rhino has squared lips for grazing.  The White rhinoceros is a member of the rhino family, Rhinoceridae in the Mammalian Order of Perissodactyla. All other living species of rhino are also members of Rhinoceridae. Other Perissodactyls include tapirs and horses.


photo:  M Noonan


The White rhino is closely related to the Black rhino. Similarities between the two species are quite obvious. Unlike the two of the Asian rhino species (Indian and Javan), the White rhino and Black rhino have two horns. The Sumatran rhino, although it has two horns, differs due to its coat of shaggy brown hair. The White rhino, like the Black rhino, lacks front teeth, differing from the three Asian species, which all have incisors. The Sumatran rhino also retains its canines. Although called the 'white', this rhino is actually dark gray, about the same shade as its close relative, the Black rhino. 'White' was probably derived from the Dutch word 'weid', meaning 'wide', which described the animal's broad upper lip. One may distinguish a White rhino from a Black rhino by its lips. Black rhinos have pointed prehensile upper lips for browsing on tree branches and shrubbery, while White rhinos have broad, square upper lips for grazing on savannah grasses.

The White rhino is the largest rhino species, ranging from 4,000-6,000lbs (1,800-2,700kg) and standing 5-6ft tall at the shoulder. A massive head is supported by an even more enormous neck ligament, giving this species a very recognizable hump. The white rhino is the largest land animal after elephants, although the hippopotamus may weigh more. Males are generally larger than females.

White Rhino Habitat/Diet

The White rhino's range once extended throughout North Africa south of the Sahara and throughout Southern Africa. Long grass and short grass savannahs are preferred by the White rhino. It is primarily a grazer, and its square lip is a great adaptation for eating savannah grass.


White Rhino Behavior/Reproduction

Female and adolescent White rhinos are rarely observed alone. Male White rhinos however, are solitary animals. White rhinos spend large amounts of time wallowing in dirt and mud, to keep insects from biting their sensitive skin. No defined breeding season has been determined. Competition for females is characterized by males jousting with their enormous horns. The winner breeds with the desired female. Gestation is 16 months long. Calves are precocial at birth, walking shortly after. After two years they leave their mother, beginning a solitary lifestyle. Females reach sexual maturity at 6-7 years of age, with males sexually maturing at 10 years. It is estimated that White rhinos live to about 50 years.

White Rhino Conservation

Two populations of White rhino exist. The Northern White rhino inhabits Central Africa, south of the Sahara. The Southern White lives primarily in South Africa and its neighboring nations. These two populations presently total 11,500 individuals. There are more White rhinos than all other rhino species combined. Unfortunately, the vast majority of White rhinos living are Southern White rhinos. Less than 35 Northern White rhinos are still alive. Due to political instability and poaching, the Northern White rhinos in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo are in danger of extinction. But hope is not completely lost. Captive breeding programs in Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic and the United State's own San Diego Wild Animal Park are slowly increasing the population. In fact, a calf was recently born in Dvur Kralove. The story of the Southern White rhino provides a glimmer of hope into the current situation. Once numbering less than 200 individuals at the start of the 20th century due to poaching, hunting, and competition for land with farmers, the Southern White rhino suffered a fate similar to the American bison. But with devoted environmentalists and conservationists in South Africa, the Southern White rhino has bounced back, becoming the most abundant rhino subspecies.

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