Lee Richardson Zoo

Black Rhinoceros

Order: Perissodactyla - odd toed ungulates

Family:  Rhinocerotidae

Scientific Name:  Diceros bicornis


DescriptionThe second largest land animal; second in size only to the elephant.  They have three, very massively built toes.  They have a short neck and small eyes.  The head, which bears two solid horns growing from the skin with no skeletal support, is held higher than the white rhino.  The front horn is always longer than the back horn and has been measured up to 53 inches long.  The body is hairless except for the tip of their tail and ears.  Their whole body is gray. The skin is very thick, making folds on the shoulders and hindquarters.  The upper lip is pointed, extendable, and the tip is prehensile or suitable for grasping.  The black rhino’s lip is triangle shaped for browsing branches and leaves, while the white rhino’s is square and more suited to grazing grass (like a lawn mower).  There is thought to be little dimorphism sexually, but females are thought to have longer horns.  This species stands 60 inches at the shoulder and weighs 2000 – 3000 pounds.


Home Range:  Parts of southern Africa.


Habitat Type:  Dry bush country and thorn scrub in Africa mainly in the transitional zone between grassland and forest.  They favor the edges of thickets and extensive areas of short woody growth.  Restricted to areas within 15 miles of permanent water.  


Reproduction:  Males defend a territory marked by feces, urine and rubbing spots.  Mating may occur at any time and fighting is not uncommon during breeding.  Gestation is 17-18 months, with one calf being born.  The calf is weaned at two years and reaches maturity at 6-7 years.  They will breed every three years or so.  An active reproductive female has an average of seven calves in her lifetime.


Diet in WildThey like to eat branches and small bushes, leaves and bark off trees (acacias, euphorbias).


Diet in ZooADF-16 cubes, primate “browse” biscuit, prairie hay, alfalfa, fresh browse, fresh fruits and vegetables.


General Info:  This species is usually solitary, especially the males.  Pairs are formed by a cow and her calf and sometimes an older daughter.  The male and female are together only during mating period.  Temporary groups may gather at water holes.  They are very agile and can turn on the spot.  They gallop only when charging and can reach 30 mph for short distances.  They feed early in the morning and at dusk, usually drinking only once daily.  They may travel as much as 5-15 miles from feeding areas to watering areas along well-traveled paths.  They have poor eyesight, but an excellent sense of smell and hearing.  They frequently wallow in mud and roll in dust to control parasites.  They are ill tempered and may charge for no apparent reason.  Like other rhinos, black rhinos are severely threatened by encroachment of man into their territory, and by poachers seeking the horns and are used medicinally or for carving into dagger handles.  Horns can be worth $9000 per pound on the black market.  Horns are valued by the wealthy Yemeni oilfield workers as a status symbol of manhood and are used to make dagger handles which sell for as much as $30,000.  Because rhinos are so predictable (using the same water holes and paths), they make an easy target for poachers.  In 1986, wardens were authorized to shoot rhino poachers on sight as the most effective method to curb poaching.


Status in the wild:  Appendix I CITES 1975; Endangered USDI 1980;  Critically Endangered IUCN Red List 2002.


PredatorsMan; Juveniles suspectible to lions, leopards, hyenas and jackals.  90% of all adult rhino deaths are caused by poaching for the horn.



Walker’s Mammals of the World, Vol. II, 6th ed. Ronald M. Nowak. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1999, pp. 1034-1037.