Southern White Rhinoceros Fact File
Southern white rhinoceros are the largest rhinos and are the second largest animals on Earth after the elephant. They may measure between 3.7 and 4m (12-13ft) long with a tail that is 70cm (28in) long. They stand between 1.5 and 1.8m (5-6ft) tall. Their weight may be up to 2.3 tonnes (2.25tons).
The white rhino is not coloured white instead being a slate grey or yellowish brown. Their stocky body features some small skin folds on the flanks and elbows with the rest being mostly smooth. A large nuchal crest sits behind the head which contains bones, muscles and ligaments to support their large head. On top of this large head stick up two ears. Their lip is square shaped which helps with grazing.
On their feet they have three toes.
Across the body are short hairs with those on the tail bristles and tops of the ears being more prominent.
Their most prominent feature is the pair of horns which protrude from the head. The front horn can measure up to 1.3m (4.25ft) with the back one being shorter at 40cm (16in) long. The horns of females are typically larger.
The southern white rhinoceros is a browser. Their diet is made up mostly of grass. While this has a low nutritional value they process it using hind-gut fermentation and as such can get enough energy to survive from the low quality feed.
They are capable to going up to four days without water but will readily drink when water is available.
Ceratotherium simum simum
— AD —
Africa is the native home of the southern white rhinoceros. Here they can be found naturally throughout South Africa which supports over 90% of the current population. Some southern white rhinoceros have also been reintroduced after going extinct in to Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. They may potentially be extinct at present in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.
They make their home on savannas, shrubland and grasslands.
Mating can take place year round. A peak occurs from October to December. Males maintain a home territory which overlaps that of the females and they defend their exclusive rights to mating with the females in this territory. If another male challenges them then they will engage in a conflict which may lead to serious injuries.
At the time of estrus the male will approach the female and begins to follow her for up to 20 days. He follows her until she enters full estrus and will allow her to approach and mate.
Their gestation is incredibly long, up to 16 months.
Prior to giving birth the female will leave her group, known as a crash and stay away for a couple of days after birth. When they return to the crash the calf will not separate from mum. White rhino calves typically move in front of their mother.
Within an hour of birth the calf is on its feet and starts to drink milk. From as early as 2 months they are grazing but they will not wean until 1 year old. Calves remain with the mother for 3 years before going off on their own.
A mother will raise a single calf every three to four years.
Females reach sexual maturity at around 5 years old. Typically they will not have their first calf till 6 or 7 years old in the wild. Males will mate for the first time much later, typically between 10 and 12 years old.
Southern white rhinos are active by day and spend much of this time grazing.
The white rhino forms social groups. Females typically move together in a group of 5 to 6 individuals known as a crash. Adolescents will move together or attach to groups of females.
Males white rhinos are solitary and maintain a home territory. They will occasionally tolerate subordinate males passing through this territory but will not tolerate breeding bulls. Bulls mark this territory using middens which is a pile of feces and sprays of urine.
Southern white rhinos will roll in mud wallows to keep them cool and keep parasites off of them.
They can run at up to 48km/h (30mph).
Predators and Threats
Adult white rhinos have no natural predators except humans due to their large size.
The main threat posed by humans is poaching. They are mostly hunted for their horn which is believed to have medicinal properties in many cultures. It is made from keratin which is the same substance which forms human fingernails and hair.
One defense against poaching is to anesthetize the southern white rhinoceros and then cut off the rhino horn. This is painless for the rhino and has little effect on their life.
Their population has recovered from a low of 100 a century ago. It is currently at 18,000. Poaching reduced this number by 1,800 in 2014 alone.
The southern white rhinoceros is not named for their skin color. Instead it is believed the name comes from a misunderstanding of the Afrikaans word ‘weit’ which refers to the wide square shaped lip.
Northern white rhinos, the other species of white rhino in Africa has been reduced to just two individuals and it is now inevitable that they will go extinct.
Copyright. The Animal Facts Team.
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