The Black Rhino: A Profile

One of the most intriguing animals on the planet is the black rhinoceros. This distinctive mammal can reach weights of 1400 kg and prefers a solitary existence. The black rhinoceros is in jeopardy of extinction and would certainly have fared much better had hunters and poachers not pursued them for many years.

In February 2013, the worldwide population of black rhino was estimated to be 4,880, a sharp fall from 30 or 50 years ago. Today, the black rhino, which once ranged the sub-Saharan Africa in plentiful quantities, is classified as a critically endangered species. The entire black rhino population is limited to the area between Cameroon in the west and Kenya in the east. Some black rhinos still roam as far south as South Africa, although these are few.

Apart from the animal’s size, the black rhino is also distinguished by a hooked lip used to feed off trees. This giant beast enjoys legumes, woody twigs and various varieties of plants. Mineral licks are especially inviting and the black rhino enjoys a healthy dose of water every day. Black rhinoceros prefers to eat at night and sleep during the day.

Like its cousin, the white rhino, the black rhino is actually gray but is easily distinguished by its pointed upper lip whereas the white rhino has squared lips. These enchanting animals like to be near water. One of their favourite pastimes is wallowing in muddy water which helps manage the heat, their body temperature and provides a good line of defence against insects.

The sheer size of the mammal is enthralling. With heights reaching 6 feet or 1.8 metres and weights up to 1400 kg, the black rhino is a sight to behold. The animal’s distinctive and valuable horns is the feature that unfortunately today’s poachers treasure. The horns are regarded by several cultures as highly medicinal. Hunters kill the animals and pull the horns, leaving the carcass while they ship the horns to countries such as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. In the Middle East and in North Africa, the horns have also been used to shape ornamental dagger handles.

The results have been catastrophic. Despite high penalties and the risk of time in prison, poachers continue their assault on black rhinos.

Breeding Periods

Male black rhinoceros are solitary by nature. Females and their offspring tend to be more social. Males can be aggressive during mating period, often fighting and killing other suitors. Despite their seemingly calm demeanour, these are powerful and strong animals.

Typically the female reproduces once every three to five years. The gestation period of the female black rhino is between 419 and 478 days.

Calves are slow to mature. Calves begin to wean at about 2 months. Most calves stay with the mother for three years or more. Very often female black rhinos and their females calves group with other females and their calves. The mother is more likely to stay with a female calf for longer periods of time than she is with the male calf. The male father may offer some early protection but soon departs to pursue other interests.

Black rhino calves reach their full sexual maturity in 4-5 years but rarely give birth before age 7. The male rhino waits until about age 10 or older to claim a territory and select a mate. The male of the species typically lives 40-50 years.

All black rhinos are prone to wallow but males corner the market. They prefer the water or the shade and are reluctant to move from a protected area.

The Treasured Black Rhino Horns

Western scientists have not attributed any medicinal value to the horns of the black rhino. However, in many eastern cultures, it is a revered commodity. Demand for these horns is strong in eastern markets and thus the endless poaching which comes at great risk.

Black rhinos have two horns of different size. The rhino’s anterior horn is dominant and can reach up to 50 cm in length. Typically this horn will grow about 6 centimetres per year and have been found to reach as long and one and one half meters.

The posterior horn is not as long and serves a different function. The dominant horn is used by females to protect their young while the male uses it to battles antagonists. The anterior horn has little value to the animal’s survival.

The black rhino now roams in preserves, which some poachers still do not respect. The animal roams within 25 km of water in these areas of sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Cameroon
  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia
  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Rwanda
  • Swaziland
  • Tanzania
  • Zimbabwe
  • Zambia (re-introduced)
  • Botswana (re-introduced)

Rhinos are most populous in tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, shrublands, deserts and Xeric shrublands. Many initiatives exist to protect it in these areas. What a tragedy it would be to see the population of the magnificent black rhino deteriorate any further.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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