By Amelia Meyer
Rhinoceroses, like other large land mammals, have a fairly long life span. In general, they live to be about 35 to 50 years of age. They are, however, elusive animals that live solitary lives, making them difficult to track and monitor on a long-term basis.
Therefore, much of the information available on rhinoceroses around the world is based on observing them within parks and reserves;that is, a life of captivity.
A rhino calf is born after a gestation period of roughly 475 days, or about 16 months. However, the mother may be pregnant with her calf for as long as 18 months. Only one calf is born per pregnancy, and arrives in the world covered in red-brown hair. This hair protects the calf from the elements, keeping it warm at night and preventing sunburn during the day.
When the calf is about two years old (for males) to four years old (for females), it will break away from its mother to pursue its own solitary, independent life. This gives the mother the opportunity, after several years with her calf, to look for a mate and bear another young rhino, which she will not do whilst still caring for an older calf. Since both males and females need to establish their own territory once they leave their mothers, it is important that they are strong enough to do so for themselves. For this reason, female calves will stay under the protection of their mothers for longer, while males tend to get stronger and bigger quicker.
To establish its own territory is no mean feat for a rhinoceros. It will be chased from many areas by other rhinos that have already claimed these territories as their own. It will need to be able to hold its own in a battle with one of these, or know when to run.
The female rhino will be ready to begin mating at around four years of age, while males tend to start looking for a mate at about seven years old. After mating, the male and female rhino will part ways and not have much more to do with one another. The male will continue to mate with as many females as possible, but will not be involved in the rearing of any of his young.
After a life of roaming the plains, copulating and, in the case of a female, rearing the young, the rhino will eventually die. Sadly, not many rhinoceroses reach an age that allows them the dignity of dying of natural causes. Rather, they are being savagely hunted and slaughtered for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal powers, and are also sold for their sheer ornamental appeal. It is essential that effective, legal measures be put into place and enforced to prevent the total annihilation of this magnificent animal.