Black Rhinoceros - A Critically Endangered Species
Species: Diceros bicornis
The Black Rhinoceros is one of the most critically endangered species in the world with a population of just 4,848 individuals. The population as of February 2013 is estimated to be 4,880.
A subspecies of this black rhinoceros, the western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011 by the IUCN.
Black Rhinos live in the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannahs, deserts and shrub lands. They are native to Eastern and Central Africa including countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Swaziland. They were reintroduced in Zambia and Botswana.
The scientific name for the Black Rhinoceros is Diceros bicornis. This species was first named by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758.
Abbreviations and explanation of terms used:
CITES - Convention of InternationalTrade in Endangered Species
WWF – World Wildlife Fund
IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature
IRF - International Rhino Foundation
BRREP - Black Rhinoceros Range Expansion Project
AREAS - Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy
FSC - Forest Stewardship Council
Keratin - A material with which our hair and finger nails are made of
TRAFFIC - Wildlife trade monitoring network
RhoDIS - Rhino DNA Index System
Herbivores - Any animal that feeds chiefly on grass and other plants
Characteristics and behaviour:
- The black rhinos are dark brown or dark grey in colour and are 132 cm to 180 cm tall and 2.8 to 3.8 m in length. Their tails are about 60 cm in length.
- An adult black rhinoceros weighs between 800 to 1,400 kg. The female rhinoceros are smaller than the male rhinoceros. Some black rhinoceros can be large and weigh between 2,199 and 2,896 kg.
- The black rhinoceros has two horns (one anterior and one posterior) that are made of keratin and they grow around 8 cm every year. The length of the horn is usually 50 cm and in rare cases can grow up to 140 cm. In some rhinos, a third small posterior horn may develop. Rhinoceros use their horns in defense to protect themselves and their young ones, for intimidation, to dig roots out of the ground and break branches while eating.
- The upper lip of the black rhinoceros is pointed (hence the name hook lipped) unlike other rhinos that have a flat lip, which helps them to grasp leaves and twigs while eating.
- Their skin is a thick layer that protects them from thorns and thorny grasses. Mites and ticks live on their skin as parasites and these are eaten by the ox-peckers and egrets which are found in the areas where these rhinos live. Ox-peckers also peck on the flesh and blood in the wounds on the rhino’s body and a recent research shows that ox-peckers could be parasites that feed on the rhinoceros’ blood
- Black rhinos have poor eyesight and depend on their sense of hearing and smell.
- Their ears are wide and can hear a wide range of sounds while their sense of smell is high enough to sense predators.
- Their feet have three toes each.
- The black rhinos are solitary animals, generally highly aggressive and charge when threats are sensed. They charge tree trunks and termite mounds and are supposed to be doing that mistaking them as threats due to their poor eyesight.
- Black rhinoceros fight each other and are famous for their mortal combat. More than fifty percent of male rhinos and more than thirty percent of female rhinos die from injuries related to combat.
- Adult rhinoceros are very rarely eaten by crocodiles otherwise their only natural predators are the humans. Rhinoceros calves and young ones (sub-adults) may be preyed by lions and hyenas.
- Black Rhinos follow the trails of elephants to find areas where there are food and water holes.
- They can run at a speed of fifty-six kilometres per hour.
- They use scent marking for communication. Urine spraying occurs on trees and bushes for identification of territories and other rhinos.
Range and habitat of the Black RhinosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Habitat and food:
- Black rhinoceros were once found in abundance in Western Africa in countries like Sudan and Nigeria and throughout the Sub-Saharan Africa apart from the Congo basin. Currently they are restricted to the nature reserves that are protected and they do not exist in countries or places where they once existed.
- They live in tropical and sub-tropical grassland forests, deserts, savannahs and shrub-lands and the mountainous forests in Kenya
- They do not have strict territories and their territories overlap with other rhinoceros territories.
- Black rhinoceros are solitary but rarely form a group. Mother and female calves along with other females live together as a family.
- Their habitat / territory range changes with season and the availability of food and water. The habitat are dense when food is in plenty and less dense when food is not readily available. They usually live in areas within 25 km of food and water resources.
- They go to regular areas to take rest and these places are called "houses".
- The black rhinoceros are herbivores and they feed on plants that have lots of leaves, branches, young shoots, thorny bushes, woody bushes and fruits. They use their pointed lips to strip off the leaves from branches of trees and plants.
- They look (called browsers as they are not grazers) for food early in the mornings (dawn) and late in the evenings (dusk) and rest during the day when it is hot.
- They wallow in mud during the day, which helps cool their body and to get rid of parasites.
- The black rhinoceros adults come together only during the mating period. The breeding pair stays together from a few days to weeks. Sometimes conflicts over a female can result in the death of a male during their fights
- The black rhinoceros usually gives birth during the end of the rainy season.
- The gestation (pregnancy) period is 15 to 16 months (419 to 478 days) and a calf weighs between 35 to 50 kg at birth. They follow their mother outside into the wild after 3 days and weaning occurs when the calves are 2 months old. Mother and calf stay together for 2 to 3 years.
- Females mature when they are 5 to 7 years old and males mature when they are 7 to 8 years old after which they are ready for reproduction.
- The black rhinoceros lives between 30 to 35 years in the wild and between 45 to 50 years in captivity.
Importance of the Black Rhinoceros:
- They are the oldest group of mammals, referred to as “Virtually living fossils”
- In countries like Namibia, the black rhinos play an important role in ecotourism thereby leading to good incomes
- Protecting the black rhinoceros will help to produce large areas of land for conservation which will in turn benefit other species like the elephants.
Main threats and reasons why the Black Rhinos are endangered:
- The Europeans, who settled in Africa during the early periods of the twentieth century, were initially responsible for the decline of the black rhinoceros population. They used to kill five or six rhinos a day for food and for fun. Some considered them as unwanted animals and wanted them completely destroyed at any cost.
- The next reason is the changes in habitat. Rhinoceros conservancies that were owned privately were invaded by landless people in countries like Zimbabwe thereby reducing safe habitat and increasing poaching and trapping.
- Illegal wildlife trade was and still is another threat where the horns of the rhinoceros are traded. This is widely common in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
- Conservation works were affected in some African countries like Angola, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan due to wars and political issues. This led to an increase in poaching which was a result of poverty.
- Poaching is still on the rise in South Africa due to high demands for the Rhinoceros horns (330 were killed in South Africa in 2010). Wealthy consumers from Asia like Vietnamese buy them for folk remedies, Chinese use these in their traditional medicines and Arabs buy these horns to make decorative carved handles for daggers that they use during ceremonies. This led to the decline of the black rhinoceros by 96% between 1970 and 1992.
Decline in the number of Black Rhinoceros:
- In 1900 there were several hundreds of black rhinoceros in Africa
- In the 1960s the number of black rhinos reduced to 70,000
- In 1981 there were only 10,000 to 15,000 black rhinos left
- Early 1990s saw a huge decline of black rhinos with just 2,500 left (2,475 recorded in 1993)
- In 2004 an estimate of 2,410 black rhinos were left
After conservation efforts the black rhinoceros population recovered to 4,240 in 2008.
Please watch this video - Flying Rhinos
Flying RhinoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Conservation efforts for Black Rhinoceros:
- Conservation efforts towards black rhinoceros are a bit satisfactory, but to bring the black rhinoceros population up to even a fraction of the original population, a huge amount of work needs to be done.
- WWF started an international program in 1961 to save wildlife in which black rhinoceros were rescued. The program worked towards stopping poaching and illegal wildlife trade and to improve law enforcement. This helped the increase in the number of rhinoceros population.
- Translocation programs were carried out by BRREP in partnership with WWF South Africa, and other conservationists. 19 black rhinoceros were transported by helicopter to a new area, which reduced the pressure on the existing wildlife reserves and also helped to spread the rhinoceros population to a wider area. This program was called the Flying Rhinoceros.
- Anti-poaching patrols and conservation law enforcement officers work with WWF to monitor and protect the black rhinoceros. Security monitoring and improvements in conservation efforts are maintained with the help of income from wildlife-based tourism.
- An Africa-wide rhinoceros database is being set up by the WWF with the aid of institutions like University of Pretoria Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, which will have the horn DNA analysis (RhoDIS) details of the rhinoceros on their database and this will help with forensic investigations and court evidences for prosecution. This is already in practice in South Africa and Kenya.
Help Save the Black Rhino
- Transmitters to track rhinoceros and protect them, and free confidential phone hotline for people to inform authorities of poaching, have been set up by WWF with the help of the Namibian government and its Telecommunications department. This has reduced poaching of rhinoceros in Namibia to a considerable level.
- TRAFFIC played a major role with bringing in bilateral laws between South Africa and Vietnam to stop illegal trading and to monitor borders and ports where these crimes take place.
- BRREP was started in 2003, and they work in partnership with WWF and other wildlife conservationists. They have some new black rhinoceros in South Africa on a huge area of land, 120 black rhinoceros were trans-located and 30 new rhinoceros calves were born on project sites since 2003.
- Black rhinos have been reintroduced in Malawi, Zambia and Botswana.
- Existing protected areas are expanded and new protected areas are established by the WWF
- Zoo Atlanta’s conservation Endowment fund provides financial support for veterinary equipment and anti-poaching patrols for the IRF. They also help with the operation of the Lewa Rhinoceros conservancy
Facts about the Black Rhinoceros:
- According to a statistics in poaching that was released by the South African government in 2012, it revealed a fifty percent increase in rhinoceros killing than 2011 and a 5000 percent increase in rhino killing since 2007.
- Most of the black rhinoceros that remained in Africa were killed for their horns between the years 1970 and 1992.
- One of the largest black rhinoceros populations in the world is found in the Etosha National Park in Namibia.
- The black rhinoceros are also called the hook-lipped rhinoceros
- They can live without water for up to 5 days.
- Black rhinoceros have the highest rate of mortal combat recorded among mammals.
- Black rhinoceros charge at the sight or scent of anything unfamiliar including humans.
Black Rhino facts
- Male Rhinoceros fight among themselves for territory and females and do not clash with other animals. Sometimes even the courting male and female fight. Rhinoceros use their horns as weapons during fight and to protect their babies.
- Rhinoceros horns grow from the skull without any skeletal support and broken horns regenerate
- Female rhinoceros are caring mothers and teach their young ones how to survive independently.
- A rhino’s horn can be safely removed without killing it
- A group of rhinoceros is called a herd or crash.
How can we help to protect and conserve the black rhinos?
We can help by
- Not buying rhinoceros products
- Donating towards anti-poaching equipment and by supporting rangers across Africa.
- You can adopt a rhino with "Adopt a Black Rhino" organisation, or with WWF.
- Please buy only FSC certified forest products
- You can spread the word about the threats that these rhinos face with your friends, relatives, children and others
I hope you found the information here useful. Please leave your thoughts, comments and experiences if any. If you find any errors in the information provided here, please do not hesitate to feedback.