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african plains rhino

Southern White Rhinoceros

Southern White Rhinoceros

Ceratotherium simum

The southern white rhinoceros is classified as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are poached for their horns, which are often used in Eastern medicines to help cure ailments such as headaches and fevers. The southern white rhinoceros was almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s due to the introduction of guns in Africa. However, countries such as South Africa have helped bring their numbers back with strict anti-poaching laws. A century of conservation efforts have restabilized captive populations to about 21,000 individuals across Africa. Their cousin, the Northern White Rhino, is more endangered with only two individuals currently in captivity.

What are they like?

Physical Description: The southern white rhinoceros is distinguished from the other African rhino species, the black rhino, by: (1) a squared mouth without a prehensile upper lip; (2) elongated and pointed ears; (3) a sloping forehead; (4) a shoulder hump containing the ligaments supporting the weight of the massive head; (5) less conspicuous skin folds; and (6) larger size. Southern white rhinos have a massive body with a large head, lengthened skull, two horns, a short neck, a broad chest, and short legs to support their massive weight. They are yellowish brown to slate grey in color. From frequent wallowing, they often take on the color of the surrounding soil. Their eyes are set low and are small with poor vision. They are on either side of the head so that to see straight in front they have to turn their head and peer with one eye and then turn their head to look with the other eye.

Life Span: In the wild, a southern white rhinoceros can live 30 to 40 years. Their lifespan in zoos is about the same.

Diet: In the wild, rhinos are herbivores, feeding primarily on woody plants, grasses, and shrubs. They have broad, flexible lips that allow them to take large bites of grass. At the zoo, Tony the rhino eats herbivore pellets, Timothy hay, and alfalfa. Being exclusive grazers, white rhinos do not tend to like treats such as produce!

Social Structure: They are mostly solitary animals; however, the southern white rhinoceros is the most sociable of all five rhino species. Mothers and young will often be seen together, and occasionally females may join together with immature males. The adult males lead a solitary life, only meeting up with a female to breed. Adult males will guard their territory from other adult males. Juvenile males will be tolerated if they remain submissive. Confrontations occasionally occur with other males usually over a female in estrus. Fights can be serious with ramming and/or goring.

Habitat: Southern white rhinos live in woodlands that are mixed with grassy openings. At the zoo, Tony the rhino has a large outdoor exhibit and a barn that is off exhibit. He shares parts of his exhibit with the zebras. There is a large, fake Baobab tree in the middle of the exhibit as these are the types of trees native to where rhinos are found in the wild. There are tree guards around both the real and fake trees in the exhibit to prevent Tony from rubbing his horn on them; however, there are plenty of logs and rocks around the exhibit that Tony can rub his horn on instead.

Where do they live?

The southern white rhinoceros lives in South Africa, in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Ivory Coast.

Southern White Rhinoceros range South Africa

Did you know?

  • Rhinos leave scent markings by defecating in a large pile and dragging their feet through the dung pile. They also have glands on their feet, which secrete a substance that marks a path for others to follow. These secretions also may serve to warn others not to trespass on a particular rhino’s territory. Males also may spray urine to mark their territory.
  • Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails and hair but compressed.
  • Both males and females respond aggressively to a close approach or attack on their territory. The male may charge if threatened, or attack by jabbing the invader with his lower incisor tusks. Rhinos can run up to 35 miles per hour, but are also very agile. They can pivot and execute hairpin turns, and the male even performs a delicate courtship dance for the female.
  • White rhinos rely mainly on their strong sense of smell and their acute hearing to gather information about their surroundings. The volume of their olfactory passages exceeds that of the brain.
  • They are often found hosting tick birds, oxpeckers, and egrets on their bodies, which act as sentinels and feed on external parasites.

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