JOURNAL POSTS

Is recognising Rhinos a black & white matter?

There are five species of rhino; two are native to Africa, and three to South and Southeast Asia. The word rhinoceros is derived through Latin from the Ancient Greek and translates as ‘nose-horned’ but how do you tell these odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae apart?

The two species we will focus on are the White Rhino and the Black Rhino, who may look the same to the untrained eye but for those in the know can spot the slight differences in their appearance. These differences can also determine their choice of habitat, which helps guides and trackers locate these magnificent creatures in the wilderness. Kenya has at least eight different wildlife locations where Rhinos can be seen in the wild. Naturally their protection and security is closely monitored by trained wildlife rangers.

Rhinoceroses are some of the largest remaining megafauna, weighing in at approximately one tonne when fully grown but have very small brains (400–600g) for animals of their size. Unlike other perissodactyls, the two African species of rhinoceros do not have front teeth, which means they have to use their lips to pluck their desired foliage to eat. This is the main difference between identifying whether it is a Black or White Rhino, the shape of their mouth – white rhinos have broad flat lips for grazing, whereas black rhinos have long pointed lips (prehensile lip) for eating bushy foliage, being active browsers.

The White Rhino:

There is no definite reason how the ‘white rhinoceros’ got its name but one popular theory is that “white” is a distortion of either the Afrikaans word wyd or the Dutch word wijd meaning “wide” that relates to the rhino’s square lips. The White Rhinoceros also has a prominent muscular hump that supports its relatively large head. The colour of this animal can range from yellowish brown to slate grey. Most of its body hair is found on the ear fringes and tail bristles, with the rest distributed rather sparsely over the rest of the body. The southern subspecies has a wild population of approximately 20,000—making them the most abundant rhino subspecies in the world. The northern subspecies is critically endangered, with only two known captive females remaining in Kenya. In the field the White Rhino is often nicknamed the ‘lawnmower’ because its head is always down on the ground.

The Black Rhino:

The Black Rhino is much smaller than the White Rhino, and has a pointed mouth, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding. The name ‘Black Rhinoceros’ (Diceros bicornis) was chosen to distinguish this species from the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), which can be confusing, as the two species are not dissimilar in colour. There are four subspecies of Black Rhino: South-central (Diceros bicornis minor), the most numerous, which once ranged most of southern Africa; South-western (Diceros bicornis occidentalis) that roam the arid and semi-arid savannas of Namibia, southern Angola, western Botswana and western South Africa; East African (Diceros bicornis michaeli), primarily in Kenya and Tanzania; and West African (Diceros bicornis longipes) which was declared extinct in November 2011.

Field observations confirm that the White Rhino is rather a passive creature whereas its cousin, the Black Rhino can be quite aggressive. Experiencing a Rhino sighting in the wild is incredible and one can never truly imagine how impressive they are until you see them in person. It really does feel like going back to the Jurassic era when in the presence of these magnificent giants, as they stroll across the African landscape. Join us on safari and spot the difference so you can identify whether it’s Black or White!

Access, travel logistics, and accommodations are easily arranged by us at Bespoke Safaris. To find out more and the best time to travel, we can organise a tailor made trip to key rhino locations, please contact Simon Ball at Bespoke Safaris in Nairobi, Kenya.