The white rhino is one of the two rhino species found in Africa and the second-largest land mammal on earth. Despite its name the white rhino is not actually white at all, its skin is grey in colour. There are many different theories as to where the term ‘white’ came from, but the most common one is that it is derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’, describing the white rhino's wide mouth and upper lip. The white rhino is also known as the square-lipped rhino and is the larger of the two African species (black rhino, white rhino).
There are two genetically distinct white rhino subspecies, the northern white rhinoceros (scientific name: Ceratotherium simum cottoni) and the southern white rhinoceros (scientific name: Ceratotherium simum) found in different parts of Africa. Sadly, the northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction and considered critically endangered. In 2018, the last remaining adult male northern white rhino named Sudan passed away. There are now only two female northern white rhinos left, Najin and Fatu, both living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya heavily protected by armed guards. However, some exciting advancements have been made with scientists and conservationists successfully creating nine northern white rhino embryos to use for in vitro fertilization.
White Rhino Characteristics
The white rhino is a grazer with a large front horn and can often be found grazing on short grass in the open plains of the savanna. They are an important part of the ecosystem! They need to feed on a daily basis but can survive for 4 to 5 days without water. Adult males typically defend their territories and roam with small groups of female rhinos and their calves.
The Southern white rhino can be found mostly in South Africa, with smaller translocated populations found in Kenya and Zimbabwe. There are also smaller reintroduced populations in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Uganda and Eswatini, while a small population survives in Mozambique.
Populations of white rhino have recovered from an all-time low of around 100 in 1895 to the current wild population of between 17,212 - 18,915 and the species is now classified as Near Threatened. However, an increase in habitat loss and rhino poaching since 2008, particularly in South Africa, is once again threatening the total population. Rhino horn is often sold by poachers on the wildlife trade black market, typically in Asia where keratin is considered very valuable. However, the southern white rhino’s population increase is considered a great conservation success!
While rhino conservation efforts and rhino-safe national parks and game reserves in southern Africa have helped increase white rhino numbers, there is always more work to be done!
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