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White Rhino

White Rhino

As we are all probably aware by now, Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, was euthanized on Monday, March 19, 2018. Now there are only two females of this subspecies alive in the world, although scientists still hope to save it from extinction through in vitro fertilization.

Here are some things you many not know about the White Rhino.

A popular theory of the origins of the name “white rhinoceros” is a mistranslation from Dutch to English. The English word “white” is said to have been derived by mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijd”, which means “wide” in English. The word “wide” refers to the width of the rhinoceros’s mouth. So early English-speaking settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “wijd” for “white” and the rhino with the wide mouth ended up being called the white rhino and the other one, with the narrow pointed mouth, was called the black rhinoceros. Ironically, Dutch (and Afrikaans) later used a calque of the English word, and now also call it a white rhino.

Physical description

White rhinos are the second largest land mammal in the world, the elephant being the largest. Adult males can reach 1.85m in height and weight in at a whopping 3.6 tonnes. The females of the species are a lot smaller but can still weigh in at an impressive 1.7 tonnes.

White rhinos are commonly known as the square-lipped rhinoceros due to their square upper lip. Their is a theory that their name comes from the Afrikaans word “weit”, which means wide and refers to the animal’s muzzle.

White rhinos have a longer skull than Black Rhinos and a less sharply defined forehead and a more pronounced shoulder hump. They have virtually no hair and two horns. The front horn averages between 60 cm and 150 cm in length.

Life cycle

White rhinos social structures are composed of groups, sometimes 14 rhinos may form a group, notably females with calves. Adult males defend territories of roughly 1-3km while the adult female territories can be more than seven times larger, depending on habitat quality and population density.

Dominant males prevented the breeding females from leaving their territory by marking and patrolling on a regular basis. If two males are competing for a female they may engage in serious battles, using their horns and massive size to inflict wounds.

Females reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age but do not reproduce until they reach 6 -7 years. Males can live up to 40 years but tend not to mate until they are 10-12 years old.

Peak mating season are from October to December in South Africa and from February to June in East Africa. The gestation period is approximately 16 months with a period of 2-3 years between calves.

Out of the five rhino species, white rhinos are the only grazer. They  feed almost exclusively on short grasses. They primarily inhabit grassy savanna and woodlands interspersed with grassy clearings.

The rhinos tend to rest in the shade to avoid the heat during the day. They bathe in mud in shallow pools during very hot periods to cool off and rid themselves of external parasites.

Key Facts

Common Names
White rhinoceros; Rhinocéros blanc (Fr); Rinoceronte (Sp)

Scientific Name
Ceratotherium simum

Main strongholds
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya

Status
Near Threatened

Population
20,000+

Subspecies
Southern white rhino (20,000+); northern white rhino (3 in captivity)

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