There are few animals more impressive than rhinoceroses. After all, what is more intimidating than an animal that weighs over a ton, that has the added fear factor of having a massive horn on its face? I’ve had the fortune of being up close with a rhino, and if it weren’t for the giant thick metal bars between me and him, I would have been very, very nervous.
There are five species of rhinoceros, two of which can be found in Africa and three in southeast Asia. The species inhabit areas varying from savannah to shrubland to forests. African species are found in more open areas, with the Asian rhinoceroses enjoying the cover of shady trees. Whatever the species, rhinos like to be close to water, rarely straying more than a day’s travel (as the rhino ambles) from a water source.
Rhinoceroses are big. In fact, the largest species of rhino, the white rhinoceros, can weigh over two tonnes. The smallest species (the Sumatran rhino) weighs in at a measly 0.8 tonnes. The most notable feature of rhinoceroses, other than their bulk, is the horns they possess. The African species and the Sumatran rhino all have two horns, while the Indian and Javan rhinoceroses only have a single horn.
As you might guess from their tiny eyes, rhinoceroses have very poor sight. They can’t see a person standing more than 30 metres away from them. What they can do, however, is hear that person, and they can certainly smell them. The ears of rhinoceroses are shaped to pick up as much sound as possible, and can swivel in the direction of any interesting noise. What is really impressive, though, is a rhinoceros’s sense of smell. The olfactory passages in a rhino are bigger than the animal’s brain.
All species of rhinoceros are herbivores, subsisting on plant matter to maintain their massive size. To get enough food, they have to eat a lot, around seventy kilograms of food a day. African rhinos tend to feed low to the ground, while Asian species usually browse from trees. Both African species lack front teeth, instead using their strong, flexible lips to grab food. The Asian species all possess incisors, and the Sumatran rhino also has canines, but these are used more for fighting than eating.
Speaking of fighting, I’m sure you’ve heard just how dangerous a charging rhino can be. They can run at speeds of 45 km per hour (albeit only for short distances), and when you have two tonnes of charging rhino coming at you, you’d best get out of the way. African rhinoceroses tend to be more aggressive than Asian ones, and to make matters worse, African rhinos fight with their horns, while Asian rhinos just use their teeth. I still wouldn’t want to get between two fighting Asian rhinos, but somehow I feel like their horns are the more dangerous of the two.
Rhinos are generally solitary, unless it’s mating season or a mother has a calf. They are quite territorial, and will mark their patch of land with giant piles of crap and some urine to top it off. And when I say giant, I mean giant. Have you ever seen a one metre high pile of dung? Because that’s how big these things can get. And just in case you don’t notice this large monument of faeces, the rhinos will dig furrows around the pile to make it more obvious.
Rhinoceroses don’t give birth very often, only having a calf every two years. The mothers invest quite a bit into their children, keeping the calves with them until the next one is born. It also takes quite a while for the calves to reach sexual maturity, with females able to breed at 4-6 years of age and males at 7-10 years. Luckily rhinos are long-lived, being able to reach ages of fifty years.
I don’t think I need to tell you that all species of rhinoceros are endangered — they are the poster boys for conservation efforts. It’s sad that these magnificent creatures probably won’t be around for much longer, but as long as human stupidity persists, rhinos don’t stand much of a chance.
Cover image by ryan harvey from Portland, OR, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons