White Rhinoceros Types: Southern White & Northern White

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

The white rhinoceros is one of five rhino species and has two subspecies of its own. In this lesson, you'll learn about the two different types of white rhino, where they live, and what they eat.

A Distinctive Animal

Though they can be found naturally in very specific areas, the rhinoceros is well-recognized all around the world. This is in no small part due to that large horn that it carries prominently on the front of its face. There are five species of rhino: black, Sumatran, Javan, greater one-horned, and the focus of today's lesson, the white rhino.

The white rhino is the second largest land mammal on Earth after the elephant
white rhino

About White Rhinos

You might be wondering, why are they called white rhinos if they look grey? The name of the white rhino actually comes from the Afrikaans word 'weit' for 'wide', specifically referring to the wide, square lips of this particular rhinoceros. Since the white rhino is the only grazer of all the rhinos, these lips are perfectly adapted for eating their diet of savanna grasses.

Along with the greater one-horned, the white rhino is the second largest land mammal (the elephant is the largest). The males weigh as much as 3.6 tons and the females as much as 1.7 tons (that's about the weight of an average sized car!). They actually have two horns, with the front horn averaging 2 feet in length, though it can sometimes be an incredible 5 feet long.

White rhinos can live to be about 50 years old. Females give birth to one calf at a time approximately every 2 - 3 years. The gestation period is 16 months, almost twice as long as humans. White rhinos live in social groups that are made of up of mostly females and juveniles. Dominant males are very territorial and will mark and defend their territory from other males.

Like other animals that live in the hot climate of Africa, white rhinos are not very active during the day. Instead, they will either find a nice piece of shade to relax in or wallow in a water hole, covering themselves with cool, protective mud. Their active periods occur during the cooler parts of the day such as early morning, late afternoon, and evening.

Rhinos like to wallow in muddy water holes to stay cool during the hotter parts of the day
wallowing rhino

Northern & Southern

The white rhino is divided into two subspecies: the northern white rhino and the southern white rhino. They are subspecies because they are genetically distinct populations, but do not warrant being described as completely different species. They once lived in different regions across Africa, with the northern white rhino at one time occurring in the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.

The phrase 'at one time' is significant. That is because the northern white rhino is now extinct in the wild due to poaching. In fact, as recently as 1960, there were more than 2,000 white rhinos. Now, there are only three left on Earth, and they are all in captivity. Imagine if you and two of your friends had to recreate the entire human species, do you think you would be able to do it? Either way, it's a pretty tall order and the odds are not good for a strong recovery.

The wide, square mouth of the white rhinoceros is perfect for eating grass
white rhinoceros mouth

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