The Black Rhino, known also as the hook-lipped rhino or by its scientific name, Diceros bicornis, is one of the world’s Critically Endangered species. It is native to countries throughout Africa. Despite its name, the Black Rhino can be brown, light grey or slate-grey. The name is simply to differentiate it from the White Rhino, so named for its wide (“weit”), flat upper lip, which is the other major rhino species in Africa. The Black Rhino is characterised by the long upper lip, which is hooked for the purposes of grasping and pulling leaves, stalks and fruits from bushes, long grasses and trees.

Portrait of a black (hooked-lipped) rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), South Africa

The Black Rhino comprises four distinct subspecies.

These are:

1.The South Central Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
2.The South-western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) - Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa.
3.The East African Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) Tanzania (after extensive poaching and habitat loss, its homelands are limited).
4.The West African Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) this subspecies has been declared extinct since November 2011.

The Black Rhinoceros has two horns on its snout. The front horn is large and prominent, while the one behind it is far smaller. The horn is made of keratin and is not attached to the skull structure. This horn can grow back if trimmed, and has been the major reason for the illegal poaching of rhino.

It is valuable for its ornamental use in the handles of certain weapons and for its medicinal uses. During the early part of the 19th century, this was one of the most prolific rhino species in existence.

In fact, there is believed to have been hundreds of thousands of Black Rhinos roaming the African plains. Then, as the continent became colonised, more space was needed, and the natural habitat of the Black Rhino was soon shrunk to make room for farms and urban areas. In addition, hunting was a favourite pastime, and thousands of animals lost their lives for the purposes of trading and trophies. The largest blow to the rhino population, however, was between 1970 and 1992, when the black market demand for rhino horn sky-rocketed.

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The Black Rhino has a life expectancy of about 32 years in the wild. This may increase to up to 50 years when in captivity, since this allows them the medical care and protection that can preserve them.

Due to its diet of fresh, juicy leaves and fruits, the Black Rhino (as with the White Rhino) does not need incisors or canines. It only has large, powerful molars that grind the food effectively. Rhinos have a varied diet, and Black Rhinos get quite a lot of their required water from the succulents and fruits that it eats. It uses its horn to dig in the mud, move branches and remove the bark from a tree trunk.

The Black Rhino has hair only on the tip of its tail, eyelashes and as tufts on each ear. Otherwise, the skin is tough, but smooth. This skin can reach about two centimetres in thickness, which protects the animals from thorns, sticks and other sharp materials.

Female Black Rhinos reach sexual maturity at between four and seven years of age, while males are later, at about seven to 10 years.

Black Rhinoceroses have a reputation for being aggressive, even when they have not been provoked. Still, it will seldom attack if left alone and will usually only charge a subject to scare it away (rather than to hurt or kill it).

Black Rhinos, like White Rhinos, love to cover themselves in mud. This is particularly true when the mud is slightly warmer than the air, such as during the evening. This mud cools them, protects them from the sun and keeps irritating pests and bugs off of them.

In addition to poaching at the hands of human beings, rhinos are also threatened by predators (such as lions and hyenas) and the loss of habitat (which, in turn, means a loss of food).

As one of the world’s most endangered species, it is imperative that countries like South Africa work harder than ever to implement effective conservation strategies and serious legal repercussions for those involved in the poaching of these giant beauties.

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