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Mammals

Southern White Rhinoceros

southern white rhinoceros

Ceratotherium simum

Distribution:

South and north-east Africa

Habitat:

Dry savannah and grasslands

Diet:

Grasses and other vegetations

Gestation:

16 months, usually one offspring born

Longevity:

50 years in the wild, longer in captivity

Predators:

Humans; hyenas and lion may attack calves

Conservation status:

Near threatened

General:

The white rhinoceros (or rhino for short) is found in southern Africa. They are 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8m) tall at the shoulder and have a head and body length of 12.5-15 feet (3.8m). They can weigh up to 3,600kg! Females are slightly smaller than males. Rhinos have short, stout legs to support their great weight and thick skin, which is folded giving them an armoured appearance. They have a relatively long skull and broad lips.


Like all species of rhino, the white rhino has poor vision and relies on scent, hearing and detecting movement. They can swivel their ears to pick up sound and accurately identify the source. Rhinos must drink daily and wallow in mud regularly. The mud not only cools them, but also helps to protect their skin against mites and biting flies.


The white rhinoceros' name derives from a corruption of the Afrikaans word "weit" which means wide, describing its wide square lips used to efficiently crop grass. The white rhino has two horns – the front one is the larger of the two.


The other African rhino species is the black or hook lipped rhino. This species is critically endangered and differs markedly from the white rhino in diet. Black rhino eat browse and herbs, while the white rhino is strictly grazers. Although usually lighter in colour than the black rhino, the white rhino tends to pick up the colour of whatever substrate they are living on and wallowing in.


There are three Asian species of rhinos – Sumatran, Javan (critically endangered) and Indian (vulnerable). Southern white rhino were nearly extinct in the early 1900s but are now a real conservation success story. From less than 100 animals they now number over 18,000 in the wild, through protection of habitat and animals. They are no longer on the endangered species list.


In contrast the Northern White Rhino subspecies is nearly extinct in the wild due to hunting for meat and poaching for its valuable horn.


Rhino horn is still illegally traded for use in traditional Asian medicines and ornamental dagger handles in some Middle Eastern countries.


Get up close to our southern white rhino with a Face2Face or Eye2Eye encounter.