Back from the Brink: Black Rhinos

SPN Spotlight returns, with Managing Editor Cheyenne Johnson exploring the resurgence of the black rhino.

“No one in the world needs a rhino horn but a rhino.” ―Paul Oxton, founder of Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation.

Black rhino in the Kalahari
A black rhino in the Kalahari.

Don’t be fooled by the name; black rhinos aren’t black. White Rhinos also aren’t white.

The difference lies, instead, with the shape of their mouths. White rhinos have flat mouths whereas black rhinos have V-shaped, pointed mouths. The curve of their top lips makes it easier to grasp at the leaves they love to eat off bushes and trees.

It's a good thing their mouths are so perfectly designed. Weighing anywhere from 1,985 to 2,980 pounds, they need a lot of food, and their dietary needs lead them across the South and Southeastern ranges of Africa. Always on the hunt for more food, these rhinos can live in both the deserts and the grasslands, where the warm sun and wet rainy season keep them full of leaves.

Rhinos, with their thick skin and massive frame, can get a bit warm in the daytime, but they’ve adapted. In the afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest, rhinos are busy hiding in the shade. Black rhinos are mostly nocturnal and roam their territory from the early evening till dawn.

Black rhinos in Kenya
Two black rhinos grazing in Kenya.

Most of that wandering is done in isolation since black rhinos are semi-solitary and keep to themselves throughout most of their lives. Though a mother spends the first three years of a baby’s life caring for it, a grown black rhino spends a lot of their 30 to 45 years by themselves.

For a species that once seemed doomed to extinction, this loner attitude has both its benefits and its drawbacks. After centuries of regular population changes, black rhinos were decimated by poaching from the 1960s up through 1995. Worldwide, the population decreased by an unbelievable 98%, leaving just 2,500 rhinos left.

Thankfully, a global effort to restore the species has brought them back from the brink, but the danger remains.

Poachers, eager to profit off the black rhino’s double horns, continue to hunt the animals, and conservation efforts, while they protect the animals, also group them in a single location, making them tantalizing targets.

The danger to these animals also extends past the poachers. Close-knit collections of black rhinos increase the likelihood of a deadly disease outbreak, and smaller populations run the risk of inbreeding, threatening the long-term survival of the species.

To counter this, zoos and conservation sites often engage in exchanges to help spread these animals around the globe and further preserve their chances for the future. Recently, the European Breeding Program brought two rhinos, Jasper and Makibo, to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park where they’ll grow and hopefully thrive, safe from danger.

Even as conservations take steps to protect these animals, their future is in doubt. Poaching saw a concerning uptick in 2016, and the recent death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, reminds us that the work is never done.

The only being that needs a rhino’s horn is a rhino, and only by defending their habitats, ending demand, and spreading awareness can we ensure that this species survives long into the future.

Black rhino
Black rhinos are slowly recovering from the devastation caused by poaching.



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