Both male and female black rhinos have two horns with the anterior horn typically larger than the posterior horn. The horns are composed of keratin. The most distinguishing characteristic of the black rhino is the prehensile upper lip. The rhino uses its lips almost like fingers to browse on twigs and leaves. Rhinos are monogastric herbivores. In human care they are frequently fed commercial foods developed for domestic livestock.
Despite short, squat legs and a huge, boxy body rhinos are surprisingly nimble. Their normal gait is a fast walk, but when frightened or agitated they will trot or gallop reaching speeds up to 28 miles per hour for short distances. Their eyesight is poor but the senses of hearing and smelling are acute. The funnel shaped ears swivel in all directions to catch sound waves. The olfactory passages in the head take up more space than the brain. Rhinos have three toes on each foot, with the middle digit supporting most of the massive weight.
Predators & Threats
Zoo: herbivore pellet, hay, produce and browse (edible plants)
Wild: leaves, twigs, fruit, grass, vegetables
Height: 4 to 6 ft at shoulder
Weight: 1,000 to 3,800 pounds
Adaptations & Behavior
Black rhinos lead somewhat solitary lives ranging over an area large enough to provide them with all of the woody plant material they need. Not strictly territorial, they discourage intruders by scent marking their area with urine sprays and dung scrapes. The black rhino has a larger range than the white. White rhinos are considerably more social than blacks and are often found in groups.
In the sweltering African heat rhinos use water and mud wallows in a manner similar to the elephant, to help in cooling the body and protecting the skin.
Conservation & Population
Adult rhinos have no natural enemies but are severely endangered due to poaching. During the short period between 1970 and 1994 95% of the wild population of black rhinos was poached. This is the most spectacular rate of decline of any mammal in recorded history. Today they remain only in small pockets in eastern and southern Africa and with a very small number in central Africa. Slightly more than 17,500 rhinos of all five species remain in the wild today. Recent population estimates for each species of rhino were: black 4,240, white 17,500; Indian 2,800; Javan 27-44; and Sumatran 150-200.
Gestation 13 to 17 months, one calf
Courtship can be violent, particularly for black rhinos, and sexual staying power can last up to 90 minutes. One calf weighing 60 to 90 pounds is born after a 13 to 17 month gestation period. The calf will nurse for up to two years, occasionally longer in areas of poor quality habitat, and may stay with the mother until another calf is born.
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