The black rhino is the rarer and smaller of Africa’s two rhino species, and also distinguished from the larger white rhino by its shape, diet and temperament. It is no more ‘black’, however, than its relative is white: both species acquire their colour from the mud in which they wallow, so vary from brown to grey.
5 Facts about the Black Rhino
- This species is also known as ‘hook-lipped rhino’ from the prehensile upper lip with which it grips the woody plant stems on which it feeds. The white rhino, by contrast, has a square mouth, which it uses for grazing.
- Scientists have identified eight distinct regional subspecies of black rhino. Three are now extinct and only three – the eastern, south-central and south-western – still have viable populations.
- Africa’s black rhino population plummeted from hundreds of thousands in 1900 to fewer than 2,500 by 2000. Uncontrolled hunting was to blame: at first for trophies, then to supply the lucrative market for its horn – mostly in China and the Middle East. Today some 4,300 remain and the species is classed as Critically Endangered.
- The black rhino has the highest known combat death rate for any mammal: some 50% of males meet their end fighting.
- Black rhinos may look cumbersome, but they can run at up to 56kph, turn on the spot, and wield their horn with such dexterity that they can strike a tennis ball thrown towards them.