HOW TO TELL black and white RHINOs APART

The names of black and white rhinos are misleading. Both are actually grey. Despite the similarities in their appearance, they have quite different habits. Here’s a handy guide to help you tell them apart.

BLACK RHINO

Diceros bicornis

Appearance 

Smaller than the white rhino with less of a pronounced hump on the back of its neck; tends to hold its head higher than white, and uses hooked upper lip to browse

Height and weight 

Shoulder height 1.4m–1.7m; body length about 3m; weight 800kg–1,300kg

Behaviour

Females and juveniles generally sociable, but mature bulls typically solitary.  More unpredictable and aggressive than white rhino. Both sexes more sociable at night than previously realised

Breeding 

Males reach sexually maturity at age seven, but are prevented from breeding until they have their own territory or dominant status, usually around 10. Females mature at about four years of age, but usually produce their first calf aged about six or seven. Breeding occurs year round. One calf is born every 2–4 years after gestation of 15 months. Mother and calf stay together for 2–4 years until the next calf is born

Communication

A range of vocalisations from a peaceful ‘mmwonk’ to angry snorts and sneeze-like alarm calls. When scared, makes a high-pitched ‘wonk’, which escalates to a terrified scream

Diet 

Black rhinos pluck vegetation from trees and bushes using a pointy, prehensile upper lip

Habitat

Deserts, wooded grasslands and acacia savannahs

Range 

Female home ranges overlap and vary from three square kilometres in forested areas to 90 square kilometres in drier areas

Distribution 

Over 96% of black rhinos are found in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. They are also found in Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland

Lifespan 

Up to 40 years in the wild

Status 

Classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN. Between 1970 and 1990, 96% were lost to poaching. By the early 1990s, the global population had crashed to fewer than 2,500. Today, there are around 4,200 black rhinos in the wild

WHITE RHINO

Ceratotherium simum

Appearance 

The largest of the world’s rhinos, the white rhino is second only to the elephant in size. It has a pronounced hump, and a longer skull and less sharply defined forehead than the black rhino. Its defining characteristic is its broad, square, flexible upper lip

HEIGHT AND WEIGHT 

Shoulder height 1.5m–1.8m; weight 1,350kg–3,500kg

BEHAVIOUR

The more placid of the two species, white rhinos have complex social lives. They form associations of up to 14 rhinos, mainly females with calves. Dominant males are usually solitary 

BREEDING 

Males are sexually mature aged 10–12 years; females mature at about four to five but do not breed until they are six or seven. Breeding occurs year round, but peaks seasonally. A single calf is born every 2–3 years following a gestation of 16 months. Mother and calf stay together until the next calf is born

COMMUNICATION

Rhinos pant as a sign to join up or to maintain contact, shriek to prevent attack, or puff when alarmed. Rhino calves squeal when they want protection

DIET 

White rhinos are grazers. Their broad, flat lower lip allows them to crop grass close to the ground

HABITAT

Grassland and open savannah woodlands

RANGE 

Males defend territories of roughly 1–3 km sq, marked with vigorously scraped dung piles. The territories of dominant males will often overlap those of several females

DISTRIBUTION 

98.8% of all white rhinos live in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Nearly 93% live in South Africa. Smaller populations have been introduced to Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia and Uganda

LIFESPAN 

Up to 40–50 years in the wild

STATUS 

Classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. The population has recovered from fewer than 100 surviving individuals in 1895 to more than 20,000 today, but around 95% of all rhinos poached in South Africa today are white rhinos

SIZE COMPARISON: BLACK AND WHITE RHINO

Black and white rhino populations 1960–2007

Source: IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group

FIND OUT MORE & HELP SAVE RHINOS TODAY