By Amelia Meyer
It may surprise some that the Black Rhinoceros is not actually black in colour. In fact, it can vary in colour, boasting shades of dark yellowish brown, chocolate-brown, light grey and dark grey. Its pelt resembles tough leather, which is ideal for roaming around under the blazing sun or keeping the cold of winter out.
The Black Rhino is also known as the Hook-Lipped Rhino in reference to the elongated point at which its top lip ends. This is designed to help it to pull the foliage off of bushes, trees and shrubs. When looking at a Black Rhino head-on, this lip shape is prominent, giving its entire face a different appearance to that of the White Rhino, which has a flat upper lip.
The Black Rhino is one of three of the five rhino species that has two horns instead of just one. In fact, its scientific name Diceros bicornis translates roughly to ‘two-horned’ in reference to its second horn. The main horn is prominent, and can reach about 50 centimetres (about 20 inches) in length.
Incredibly, though, this horn has been known to reach lengths of more than 1.2 metres! The second horn is much smaller. Both are made of keratin and they are used to dig up roots, break branches, defend the rhino and intimidate others. The horn is not part of the skeleton.
In terms of its physical stature, the Black Rhino is smaller than its White Rhino counterpart, but larger than some of the other rhino species. On average, the Black Rhino is up to about 1.8 metres at shoulder height (which is equivalent to 71 inches). However, it can be as short as 1.3 metres, or 52 inches.
From its nose to the base of its tail (that is;the tail is not included), the Black Rhino will measure about 2.8 to 3.8 metres (between 9.2 and 12 feet). An adult Black Rhino can weigh anywhere between 800 and 1 400 kilograms, with males being slightly larger and heavier than females.
The skin of the Black Rhinoceros is thick and tough, so that the thorns and twigs of the surrounding vegetation do not hurt them unnecessarily. There are ticks and other mites that live on the skin of this host animal, which are the ideal snack for the ox-peckers and other birds that spot them. For this reason, birds will often be seen perching on the ample rump or back of a rhino.
The Black Rhino is a herbivore, not a hunter, and does not, therefore, need an acute sense of sight. However, its senses of hearing and smell are particularly well developed so that it is aware of danger, and can find food as and when it needs to. Their ears have the ability to rotate almost 180 degrees so that noises from various angles do not go undetected. Due to their fine-tuned sense of smell, the rhino is able to detect predators that are not even aware of the rhino’s presence.
Due to loss of habitat and poaching, the Black Rhino has been declared a Critically Endangered Species by the IUCN. This is particularly tragic as it was once the most prolific of all of the rhino subspecies. It was only towards the late 1900’s that their numbers were decimated in Africa from an impressive 70 000 to only a few thousand in the 21st century. Without concerted efforts on the parts of society, government and conservation organisations, the Black Rhino will soon be added to our list of extinct treasures.