Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Black Rhinoceros in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Black Rhinoceros in Etosha National Park, Namibia

The Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is one of five living rhinoceros species and native to eastern and central Africa (from South Africa up to Tanzania and Kenya). Large males reach a shoulder height of 1.6 m at a length of 3.5 m and a weight of up to 1.4 tons! Although its name suggests a dark colour, its skin is gray and does not differ much from that of the co-occurring White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum). In fact, it is believed that the White Rhinoceros received its name from the Afrikaans word “wyd” refering to the rather “wide” mouth of this species in contrast to the comparatively pointed lip of the Black Rhinoceros. Consequently, both species are sometimes called the Square-lipped and the Hook-lipped Rhinoceros.


Portraits of a Square-lipped (left) and Hook-lipped Rhinoceros (right)

Black Rhinoceros live most of their lives solitarily, except for mothers and their calves, mating couples, and subadults. The species is known for its aggressive nature, for example, attacking cars in national parks. During a chase, the animals can reach speeds of up to 55 km/h! However, they have also been observed charging termite mounds or trees and readily fight rivals. In fact, 50 % of males and 30 % of females die because of injuries inflicted during combat!

Despite all the fighting, the Black Rhinoceros is actually a herbivorous browser feeding mostly on leaves, shoots, and fruits. Therefore, the animals favour more or less dense bushlands as habitats. They have very bad eyesight which is compensated by good senses of hearing and smelling (urine spraying is used to indicate an individual’s presence in its territory).

Through much of the 20th century, the Black Rhinoceros was the most common rhinoceros species with an estimated 70,000 individuals living in the 1960s. However, in the subsequent decades, the populations diminished catastrophically towards a minimum of barely more than 2,000 in the late 90s! Today, the species is still critically endangered and poaching for its horns is a massive problem!

I have photographed these fantastic animals at the Okaukuejo waterhole in the Etosha National Park of Namibia in February 2007. Let’s hope that these majestic creatures still roam the savannahs in hundreds of years!!

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