Aren’t all rhinos gray? Technically, no.
Spanning the lower and eastern part of the continent of Africa, the black rhino and white rhino roam like prehistoric giants balancing precariously on the edge of being lost.
The black rhino is critically endangered, and the white rhino is near threatened. These bulky, armored vegetarians simply try to persevere through the loss of their habitat and persecution from wildlife trade. Their iconic keratin horn, always growing like our hair or fingernails, is their downfall. In 2015, at least 1,300 rhinos were slaughtered for their horn in Africa, the highest number ever on record.
Only two northern white rhinos remain, both female and both in captivity under constant guard. Black rhino populations have declined 98% between 1960 and 1995. Many rhinos face urgent, regular threat and require costly protection.
However, these animals prove incredibly resilient. Southern white rhinos were on the brink of extinction in the early 20th century with fewer than 100 remaining. Today, they are the only species of rhino that are not endangered. With protection, management, and time, the white rhino population rebounded to almost 20,000 individuals.
Rhinos are profitable even without their horns. Tourism revenue is helping create a need to defend the animals and ensure their survival. This helps incentivize protection on both public and private lands. Visitors are helping rhinos just by paying to seeing them.
With Natural Habitat Adventures offering tours to countries with high populations of rhinos, you have the chance to witness these animals in the wild. Prepare yourself by learning how to tell the difference between black and white rhinos.
White Rhino size:
Weight: 4,000-6,000 lbs (1,800 – 2,700 kg)
Height: 5 – 6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 m) tall at shoulder
Length: 12.5-15 feet (3.8 – 5m) length of head and body
The white rhino is larger, and the black rhino is smaller and more compact. Because they are grazers, white rhinos usually have their head naturally lowered to the ground to tear up grass. The head of the black rhino is more in line with its body as it feeds off leaves from shrubs and trees. The black rhino also has a dip in the middle of their back.
Black Rhino size:
Weight: 1,750 – 3,000 lbs (800 – 1,350 kg)
Height: 4.5 – 5.5 ft (1.4 – 1.7 m) tall at shoulder
Length: 10- 12.5 ft (3.0-3.8m) length of head and body
The most noticeable difference between African rhinos are the shape of their lips. White rhinos have lips that are broad and square-shaped, like a cow. Black rhinos that has hooked-shaped lips to grip leaves. An easy way to remember this difference is to think of the wide, gentle curve of the white rhino’s mouth as a “W” for white.
One theory states that early English-speaking settlers in South Africa misheard “wijd” (the Dutch word for wide) and began calling the rhinos “white” and the hook-lipped rhinos “black” to differentiate. The scientific name for white rhinos “ceratoherium” roughly means flat-nosed, horned, beast.
Though horns vary from rhino to rhino, there are some characteristics that are typical to each species. White rhinos usually have a longer front horn than black rhinos. Black rhinos have longer second horn meaning both of their horns are more similar in length.
Another difference between these species is their personality. White rhinos are more social and live in groups. They are usually found out in the open because of their diet. Black rhinos are more solitary and forge in dense undergrowth, making it harder to see them.
If you are lucky enough to see a rhino in the wild, you will now be able to say whether it’s a black rhino or a white rhino.
Quiz yourself on your African rhino knowledge below!