Black Rhinoceros: Habitat, Population & Adaptations

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson you'll learn about the black rhinoceros. We'll look at its current habitat and population, as well as some ways that this species has adapted to its environment.

Diceros bicornis

What would it be like if you had to keep your exact location a secret, for your own protection? That's exactly how it is for the black rhino (Diceros bicornis), although in their case it is other people keeping their location a secret. Think of it as a rhino witness protection program. Conservation groups have worked tirelessly to keep the black rhino safe from poachers, or illegal hunters, and extinction. They avoid have avoided posting specific locations of rhino groups in publicly accessible areas. Their work has paid off as their numbers are increasing. In this lesson, let's take a look at why black rhinos are so coveted, as well as some general information about their habitat, population and adaptations.


Their exact location may be a secret, but we still know the geographic range of black rhinos. They live in sub-Saharan Africa, and range from South Africa up to Kenya. For the most part, black rhinos are concentrated in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

This species can live in a wide variety of habitat types, from desert to grassland to forest. However, the majority of them live in savannas and areas covered in grass and small trees and bushes, called shrubland. Black rhinos eat mostly small woody plants and grasses, so they have the most food availability in grassland habitats such as these.

Black rhinos prefer grassland habitats
Black rhino grazing


Black rhinos used to be the most common species of rhino, with their numbers once around 850,000. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Colonial hunting and habitat loss dramatically reduced their numbers, and by 1960 there were less than 100,000 left.

If it couldn't get any worse, it did for the black rhino. After 1960, their numbers dropped even more. Black rhinos were illegally hunted for their horns, which were used for decoration, as a sign of wealth and in medicine. By 1995 the black rhino population had dropped by 96%, and there were less than 2,500 left. As a result, this species was listed as critically endangered, where is still remains today.

Fortunately, conservation efforts for the black rhino have been moderately successful, and their population is beginning to grow. There are now around 5,000 black rhinos. They are still critically endangered, and poaching is still a problem, which is why conservation groups keep the rhinos' exact locations secret. However, their numbers are growing, which is excellent news for conservation.


Though they have not done well against humans, black rhinos have a number of adaptations that help them survive in their natural environment. One important adaptation is that black rhinos have a prehensile upper lip, which means the rhino can use it almost like a hand. This sets them apart from the white rhino. Black rhinos are sometimes called hook-lipped rhinos because of this physical trait. They can wrap their lip around branches and grass and more easily pick things up.

Black rhinos have prehensile upper lips
Black rhino

In addition, black rhinos have thick skin that protects them from thorny plants. They also have the ability to rotate their ears, which allows them to more easily pinpoint sounds coming from different directions.

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