The rhinoceros is second only to elephant in size, with adults routinely weighing at least a ton and often significantly more. Their name comes from the Greek for ‘nose-horned,’ and has been used since at least the 1300s.
There are two species of rhino in Africa – the white rhino and the black rhino. Traditionally, only the black rhino is considered a member of the Big Five. However, in recent times the definition has been expanded to also include the white rhino.
Only black rhinos were originally considered a Big Five species because they are much more aggressive than their cousins. It was therefore much more dangerous to hunt black rhino on foot – the original defining feature of the Big Five.
Sometimes rhino charge trees and rocks by mistake, given their eyesight is very poor. Their sense of smell and hearing more than make up for their bad vision, and animals can charge at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
White rhino can be twice the size of black rhino and can be divided into northern and southern subspecies. It’s believed there are only two living northern white rhinos. Both are female and living in captivity, making the northern white functionally extinct.
By contrast, there are around 20,000 southern white rhinos, making this subspecies the world’s most abundant. There are around 5,000 black rhinos in Africa, down from an estimated 60,000 in the late 1960s. This fall is largely due to poaching for their horns, which are made of keratin, the same protein as human hair and finger nails.
If you’re wondering where white rhino got their name, since they are grey, it’s thought to come from the Dutch or Afrikaans for wide – weit. This in turn is a reference to their broad square mouths. Narrow-mouthed black rhinos were named later to distinguish them from white rhino.
Where to See Them
White rhinos are limited to the countries of southern Africa. South Africa is considered the best place to see them, with 90% of the global population. Neighboring Eswatini (Swaziland) has populations in Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve. The distribution of black rhino is much wider, but also limited to smaller areas. Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park has reintroduced populations of white and black rhino, while Namibia’s Etosha National Park is one of the top destinations for spotting black rhino specifically.