Rhinoceros

2 rhinoceros grazing on grass with mountains in the background

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.

Rhino Behavior

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.

Panda

Panda holding two sticks sitting on grass being playful

With their bold black and white coloring complemented by a playful, curious personality, pandas are beloved the world over. Despite their international fame, these gentle giants are only found in China, where they’re viewed as a national treasure.

Wild Pandas in the Bamboo Forests of China

Because the panda’s natural diet consists mainly of tender shoots of bamboo, these unique animals are restricted to a small range of ever-shrinking mountainous bamboo forests in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China. They prefer elevations of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and the areas where they live are often shrouded in fog.

Pandas spend up to half of their day eating and foraging for food, and a single panda consumes about 28 pounds of bamboo per day. Pandas are omnivorous, so they supplement their bamboo-heavy diet with small birds and rodents.

Logging and farming have destroyed much of the panda’s original habitat, leaving them vulnerable to extinction, although their populations have recovered enough that they’re no longer considered endangered.

Protecting Pandas from Extinction

Over 50 nature reserves have been established in China to protect giant pandas. Reforestation efforts, including planting bamboo between isolated habitats to connect them, are ongoing. Some panda reserves, including the Giant Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu, raise money for conservation by letting visitors interact with resident pandas.

The Panda Lifestyle

Pandas are generally solitary, though some do form groups of 7 to 15 individuals. Pandas from different groups generally don’t mingle, and they mainly communicate through scent markings and vocal calls. These playful, relaxed animals are about the size of an American black bear with the males being slightly larger than the females.

Pandas lounge around a lot, and they don’t make much noise. When they do make sounds, it’s bleating, as heard in this video of a panda at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo:

Female pandas are only fertile for a short period of about two to three days per year, which makes breeding them in captivity difficult. Litters are small, typically only one or two panda cubs, and the babies stay with their mom for up to three years before setting off on their own. Because of this, pandas don’t usually have babies every year, lowering the species’ overall breeding rates even more.

The Panda as Cultural Ambassador

All pandas in the world belong to China, and the Chinese government keeps strict records of where their pandas go. While China once gave out pandas as gifts to other countries, they’ve had a policy since 1984 to only lend out pandas for short periods of time. China loans out pandas for $1,000,000 per year to zoos around the world, and any babies born to those loaned-out pandas become the property of China upon birth.

Pandas in Pop Culture

For modern kids, the most recognizable panda in pop culture is probably Po, the cartoon star of the Kung Fu Panda movie and animated series. The panda is also the official ambassador for the WWF conservation organization. In mainland China, pandas are often used as mascots for local brands and international events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The popularity of pandas around the world makes them a natural favorite of conservation organizations and zoo visitors. Governments and individuals have put considerable efforts into saving this vulnerable species, and those efforts have paid off with increased population growth, but the continued loss of habitat for these gentle giants remains a continued concern.