White rhinoceros, square-lipped rhinoceros; Rhinocéros blanc (Fr); Rinoceronte (Sp)
Southern Africa and Kenya (southern white rhino); DRC (northern white rhino)
Compared to black rhinos, white rhinos have a longer skull, a less sharply defined forehead and a more pronounced shoulder hump. They have almost no hair and two horns. The front horn averages 60 cm, but occasionally reaches 150 cm in length.
Size: 150-185 cm in height, females weigh 1,400-1,700 kg, males weigh 2,000-3,600 kg
Colour: Slate grey to yellow brown
The ainmals tend to avoid the heat during the day, when they rest in the shade. They are usually active in the early morning, late afternoon and evening.
During very hot periods, the cool and rid themselves of ectoparasites (external parasites) by bathing in mud in shallow pools. Adult males can spend almost their entire life in these areas, unless water is unavailable, in which case they follow a narrow corridor to a drinking site every 3-4 days.
White rhinos are attributed to have the most complex social structure of all rhino species. Groups of up to 14 rhinos may form, notably females with calves. Adult males occupy territories of 1-3km2, which they mark with vigorously scraped dung piles, while adult females have home ranges of 6-20km2 or even larger, depending on habitat quality and population density.
Breeding females are prevented from leaving a dominant's male territory, which is marked and and patrolled by its owner on a regular basis. Males competing for a female may engage in serious conflict, using their horns to inflict wounds.
Females reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age but do not reproduce until they reach 6-7 years. In contrast, males tend not to mate until they are 10-12 years old. They can live up to 40 years.
Breeding pairs may stay together for up to 20 days. Mating occurs throughout the year although peaks have been observed 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.
White rhinos are the only grazer of all rhino species, feeding almost exclusively on short grasses.
Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas and Shrublands
Botswana (re-introduced), Cote d’Ivoire (introduced), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya (introduced), Namibia (re-introduced), South Africa, Swaziland (re-introduced), Zambia (introduced), Zimbabwe (re-introduced)
Central and Southern Africa
Namib-Karoo-Kaokoveld Deserts, Southern Rift Montane Woodlands, Central and Eastern Miombo Woodlands
The two living white rhino subspecies are genetically distinct and are found in two different regions in Africa.
The northern white rhino once occurred in southern Chad, the Central African Republic, southwestern Sudan, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and northwestern Uganda.
As late as 1960, there were more than 2,000 remaining.
Once found across Southern Africa, the southern white rhino was considered extinct in the late 19th century. Then in 1895 a small population was discovered in the Umfolozi-Hluhluwe region in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
Current population & distribution
Just 4 northern white rhinos now remain in the wild, in Garamba National Park in north-eastern DRC. However, there are unconfirmed reports of a few survivors in southern Sudan.
After more than a century of protection, southern white rhinos currently number about 20,140. Classified as Near Threatened, they are the only non-endangered rhinos.
The majority (98.8%) of white rhinos occur in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.
Uncontrolled hunting in the colonial era was historically the major factor in the decline of white rhinos, and poaching for their horn continues to be the main threat.
The white rhino is particularly vulnerable to hunting, because it is relatively unaggressive and occurs in herds.
Efforts to protect the few remaining northern rhino have been severely disrupted because of the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and incursions by poachers coming mainly from Sudan. Thanks to the dedication of park staff through years of armed conflict in the region, this Critically Endangered subspecies still survives, but for how much longer?
Loss of habitat to agriculture and human settlement poses a secondary threat.
Although the southern white rhino is faring well, the animals still face the ever-present threat of poachers.
WWF is working to protect the white rhino and increase its numbers by:
- Expanding existing protected areas and improving their management
- Establishing new protected areas
- Improving security monitoring to protect rhinos from poaching
- Improving local and international law enforcement to stop the flow of rhino horn and other illegal wildlife trade items from Africa to other regions of the world
- Promoting well-managed wildlife-based tourism experiences that will also provide additional funding for conservation efforts.
- Don't buy rhino horn products! Illegal trade in rhino horn is a continuing problem, posing one of the greatest threats to rhinos today.
- Donate towards much-needed anti-poaching equipment and support for rangers across Africa.
South Africans / Residents of other countries
Donations will go towards:
- night-vision gear
- bullet-proof armour
- rhino tracking
- camping equipment
- training for guards