Large and lumbering, the rhinoceros sometimes seems like a relic from prehistoric times, and in truth, their lineage stretches back millions of years. These heavyset mammals are well known for their horns, which are a target for poachers. In fact, the name rhinoceros comes from the Greek words for nose and horn. Because of extensive poaching and habitat loss, all five subspecies of rhino are considered endangered or vulnerable.
African Rhinos in Black and White
There are five species of rhinos. White and black rhinos live in Africa, and both are grey in color and sport two horns. The name for the white rhino came from the Dutch word for wide (weit), but it eventually changed to white, so the slightly darker African rhinos were designated as black rhinos.
Rhino Species Outside of Africa
Javan rhinos sport a single horn and are considered critically endangered. They live in a small corner of the island of Java, and only about 50 are left in the wild. Sumatran rhinos, another critically endangered group, are unique for being slightly woolly. Greater one-horned rhinos, which live in Nepal and Southern India, are the most widespread group. This population of Indian rhinos is considered vulnerable, not endangered.
Where Rhinos Roam
Both species of African rhinos live in savannas, while the rhino species in Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Nepal tend to make their home in jungle and forest habitats. Rhinos are herbivores, so they spend most of their day grazing on leaves or grass, halting only during the hottest part of the day to rest.
One of a rhino’s favorite pastimes is to roll around in the mud. This is because a coating of wet, thick mud helps protect the rhino’s sensitive skin from sunburns and bug bites. In truth, rolling around in muddy puddles is probably pretty fun for the rhino, too.
Male rhinos are territorial, but females comfortably share grazing areas. Rhinos do like hanging out with birds, though. In particular, they form a relaxed partnership with oxpeckers, which sit on their backs and remove bugs. The rhinoceros tends to be a quiet animal, but the sounds they do occasionally make are surprising. As seen in the video below, rhinos emit a squeaky sound, not the bellow you might expect.
Rhino pregnancies last an astounding 15 to 16 months before a mama rhino gives birth to a single calf. Male rhinos are typically solitary, socializing with females only to mate, but females tend to be more social, and calves usually stay with their mother for the first two to three years of life.
Rhinos in Pop Culture
Humans have been fascinated by the rhinoceros almost from the first time these creatures were spotted by primitive cave dwellers. Images of rhinos have been found painted on cave walls, shaped into bronze wine vessels in China and depicted in ancient Roman mosaics. Rhinos frequently appear as characters in modern movies and cartoons, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Jungle Book, and Kung Fu Panda, although they’re typically side characters, not the main protagonist.
Dangers to Rhinos
The biggest dangers to rhino populations are habitat loss and poaching, and efforts to save these animals focus on both problems. Rhino horns are considered extremely valuable on the black market, so there’s an economic incentive for poachers to hunt them and a vast network of organized crime that deals in selling these rhino parts.
Impressively bulky and instantly recognizable, rhinos depend on human intervention to survive into the future. Some species of rhino are considered almost impossible to save at this point because their numbers have gotten so low in the wild. In some areas, though, conservation efforts have begun to pay off and the populations of rhinos are starting to grow again. With continued work by international communities, rhinos can continue to roam the wild and delight future generations.