The white rhino (Ceratotherium simum – Burchell, 1817) makes one think of a fearsome prehistoric creature which has somehow survived the conditions which caused the extinction of other dinosaurs. The name “white rhino” has nothing to do with the colour of the animal which can vary from slate grey to reddish grey depending on the colour of the soils in which it habitually wallows. The name comes from the Dutch word “wyd” meaning wide and referring to the broad flat muzzle of white rhino which is adapted to grazing as shown in the images above and which differentiates it from the black rhino with it’s long prehensile lip suited for browsing of leaves and twigs. It is also referred to as the square lipped rhino and the black rhino as the hook-lipped rhino.
White rhino are massive animals with bulls weighing in at about 2000 –2300kg. (4400 – 5060 pounds) and cows between 1400 – 1600kg. (3080 – 3520 pounds). They stand about 1,8m tall at the shoulder.
Generally more placid than their black counterparts which are smaller and more compact, white rhino must nonetheless be respected. Records from trail rangers diaries in the Kruger National Park show that white rhino charges of trail groups were by no means infrequent. These animals have poor eyesight and will often trot closer to investigate some poorly defined object – whereas this cursory inspection is usually conducted out of curiosity it can often turn serious – especially if young animals accompany the adult. The problem is that, with white rhino, the young usually run ahead of the adults and the adult is likely to act in defence of the young if the vaguely defined object suddenly comes into clearer focus. Black rhino young run behind the adults.
White rhino’s are gregarious animals and are found in small groups consisting of a dominant territorial bull, younger or submissive bulls and females with young. Territorial bulls mark the perimeters of their territories at strategic points using piles of dung referred to as middens and by spraying urine. Defecation and urination will often be accompanied by scraping on the ground which leaves a pair of parallel scrape marks.
White rhino are primarily grazers preferring areas of short grass. They will often graze around termite heaps which creates the impression of a lawn mower having been at work leaving the grass short and closely cropped.
The image above shows a rhino with a whitish colour. This does not necessarily make it a white rhino as the colour of a black and white rhino is not necessarily different. Even though the shape of the mouth cannot be clearly seen in this image another distinguishing feature confirms it to be a white rhino and that is the prominent “nuchal” hump just behind the ears which is far less pronounced in the black rhino.