Written by ANTHONY HAM
Under threat of extinction and a testament to the resilience of wild creatures in wild places, the African rhino is an enduring symbol of the beautiful strangeness of the natural world.
If you see this member of the Big Five in the wilds of Africa, you’ve hit the safari jackpot. Keep reading and we’ll show you how to make it happen.
a picture painted in black and white
Rhinos have very few natural enemies, apart from humankind, and they’re so large that no other predator can bring down an adult rhino; lions and other large predators do occasionally kill baby rhinos.
There are two main species of African rhinoceros, black and white, although the names are something of a misnomer.
Rhinos aren’t named for their colour, but for their lip shape: ‘white’ comes from wijde (wide), the Boers’ term for the fatter-lipped white rhino.
Black rhinos are smaller, but still can be anywhere between 700kg and 1400kg. Black rhinos are browsers – they eat leaves, twigs and branches – so they’re most often found in thickets and woodlands.
The considerably larger white rhino can weigh up to 3600kg and is a grazer, preferring short grasses on savannah plains.
Rhino mothers give birth after pregnancies of around 15 or 16 months, and baby rhinos will survive off its mother’s milk for up to a year after birth. In the wild, rhinos can live for up to 50 years.
A social life
Although rhinos do inhabit set territories, aggression between rhinos is rare in areas where rhino density is high; breeding males will, however, attack competitors.
Female rhinos often live close to other females, but the mother and her young is the foundation of most rhino families. Mothers drive off their offspring at around two to four years old.
A rhino’s horn
A lucrative prize for poachers over the past century, the horn owes its current value to its use in traditional Asian medicines, including as an aphrodisiac, although its legend dates back further.
In ancient Greece, rhino horn was believed to purify water, while the ancient Persians believed it could detect poisons.
In the centuries since it has been used to make the handles of daggers in Yemen, and everything from walking sticks and door handles to the interior of limousines elsewhere.
According to the latest estimates, a single rhino horn can sell for up to US$65,000 on the black market in parts of Asia, although that figure has reached US$300,000 at times over recent years.