The Rhino Family
The Government of South Africa and dedicated conservationists teamed up to bring the southern white rhino back from possibly fewer than 50 individuals in the early 1900s to roughly 17,000 – 18,000 today – though that population has declined over the past 3 years because of poaching.
Unfortunately, white rhinos are seeing higher poaching levels than black rhinos, particularly in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, largely because they generally live in more open habitats where they are easier to target. Sadly, from 2012 to 2017, the poaching scourge led to a more than 15% decrease in white rhino numbers.
The white rhino, along with the roughly equal-sized Greater one-horned rhino, is the largest species of land mammal after the elephant. It has two distinct subspecies, but only populations of the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) remain viable. The northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is extinct in the wild due to poaching and only two females remain in captivity.
IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened & Population Declining
- The white rhino lives in Africa, in long and short-grass savannahs.
- Just five countries hold 99% of Africa’s white rhinos – the vast majority of those in South Africa.
- White rhinos are grazers. Its wide, square upper lip is adapted for feeding on grasses.
- White rhinos can live to be 35-40 years of age. Gestation lasts approximately 16 months, and mothers give birth to one calf every 2-3 years.
- White rhinos are semi-social and territorial. Females and subadults generally are social, but bulls are often solitary.
White rhinoceros is taken from the Afrikaans word describing its mouth: “wyd”, meaning “wide”. Early English settlers misinterpreted the “wyd” for “white”.
It is also sometimes called the square-lipped rhinoceros.
Scientific Name and Origin
Ceratotherium simum Ceratotherium from the Greek “cerato”, meaning “horn” and “thorium”, meaning “wild beast” and “simum” from the Greek simus, meaning “flat nosed.”
Current White Rhino Numbers and Distribution
There are currently approximately 18,000 white rhinos.
Weight: 4,000-6,000 lbs (1,800 – 2,700 kg)
Height: 5 – 6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 m) tall at shoulder
Length: 10-16 feet (3 – 5 m) length of head and body
White rhinos have two horns. The larger front horn measures 37 – 79 inches (94 – 201 cm). The rear horn measures up to 22 inches (55 cm) long.
Relatively broad snout with a square lip.
Rhinos are known for their keen sense of smell and hearing, but they have poor vision.
Once down to 20 animals in South Africa’s Umfolozi Game Reserve, southern white rhinos were brought back from the brink of extinction through the concerted efforts of dedicated conservationists and the South African government.
Rhinos have seven vertebrae in their necks, the same number as all other mammals, from bats to giraffes.
The wide-mouthed white rhino of Africa is the consummate grazer. Short grasses are its favorite foods
Rhinos serve as flagship species for broader wildlife conservation programs that protect dozens of other endangered plant and animal species.
RHINOS ARE FACING A CRISIS
Learn more about threats to all five species.
How We’re Helping
Learn about our programs protecting rhinos in South Africa.
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Support our anti-poaching efforts.