Both species of rhino (Kifaru) occur are in dire threat of extinction. White rhino (Ceratotherium simum) are on the way to recovery but black rhino
(Diceros bicornis) populations have been severely diminished in recent years.
The two species are easily distinguished by size. The white rhino is bigger, about six feet (1.8 m) at the shoulder, three and a half tons in weight (3.6 tonnes)
and fourteen feet (4.3 m) long. Their belly can be up to ten feet (3 m) round. The smaller black rhino weighs two and a half tons (2.5 tonnes), measures ten to
eleven feet (3.0-3.3 m) long and stands just over five feet (1.5 m).
Both species have two horns on the snout but the purpose is uncertain. They may be used in defense or for courtship but neither activity seems much affected in
de-horned rhino. The structure of the horns is unique; they are not true horns but made of matted, fused hair with no bony core or attachment to the skull. The
skull shows no evidence of the horn, unlike the true horns of antelopes.
Rather than its color, which is not at all pale, the white rhino is named after its lip, which is flat and wide, compared to the black's. Afrikaans (a language
of South Africa) for wide is "weit", pronounced "white" when anglicized. The wide lip is to let the mouth reach close to the ground so the rhino can graze on
grasses and herbaceous plants. The black rhino has a pointed and very mobile upper lip, which is used to browse on bushes and trees. Rhinos prefer to feed in
the night or cooler periods of day and spend much of the remaining time under shade cover.
Rhinos are fairly lethargic and need to be provoked a lot before they charge. It would be best not to put this to the test as a charging rhino is a scary sight
when the animal lowers its head, points its horns forward and gallops to thirty miles an hour (48 kph) in a few paces. However, the rhino cannot turn very well
and it is theoretically possible to avoid it by jumping aside at the last moment.
Actually you might have a chance if you were quick because the rhino has poor sight and cannot see more than about fifty feet (15 m). Instead, they rely on
their acute hearing and sense of smell to detect danger. Lions prey on young or sick rhinos, but it is unlikely they would tackle a healthy adult. Of course,
people are a greater threat to rhinos than any other animal.
Most of us know the reason the rhino is heavily poached. Rhino horn reaches $345 per pound ($800 per kg), a fortune in rural east Africa. In the Far East, the
horn commands high prices. Apparently, it is most widely used to relieve fever, rather than as an aphrodisiac.
Also, a lot of horn is used for handles of ceremonial daggers. The daggers are especially important among tribes of the Arabian peninsula and Persian Gulf,
especially in Yemen. Since oil wealth came to these countries demand for expensive handles rose. Consequently the price of horn went up. To young, wealthy
fashion-conscious men, this simply made it more desirable and the price went ever higher. Of course more poachers went to greater lengths to go for fewer and fewer rhinos. The vicious circle spiraled out of control until rhinos ran out.
The rhino is not able to cope with human expansion. Threats come to it from increased land use as well as poachers, a parallel with the elephant's fate. By
1950, it was gone from half the territory it had occupied in 1925 and now its range is under 10% of its original land area. Twenty years ago a visitor to a
park in Kenya could be certain to see rhino, but now they would have to be very fortunate.
White rhino have been successfully protected in South Africa, and have been reintroduced to several countries from which they were extinguished. The black
species inhabits a wide range of habitats, from bush, savannas and light forest to highland forest and moorlands. With patience and luck, the black rhino can
be seen in many parks.