Four subspecies are recognized—the Western Black Rhino (D. b. longipes) which is now extinct, the South-western Black Rhino (D. b. bicornis), the Eastern Black Rhino (D. b. michaeli) and the Southern-central Black Rhino (D. b. minor.)
The population estimate for the Black Rhino is 5,360 individuals, an end-2018 estimate by Dr. Jacques Flamand who heads WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP). The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) puts the population at 5,495 in its briefing document for the CITES Cop 18 meeting set for September 2019. The population continues to increase, notwithstanding the current poaching crisis.
Once the most widespread and numerous of all rhinos, the distribution of the Black Rhino has contracted drastically over the past 50 years, and the species is now extinct throughout much of its former range. Current strongholds are east and southern Africa. (See maps)
The Black Rhino is at home in a number of habitats including bush, thicket, woodland fringes along rivers, and marshland. In northwestern Namibia, it is adapted to the sparse vegetation of a desert landscape where rainfall (in the far west) is often no more than four inches (100 mm) a year.
Weight: 1,900–3,500 lbs (850–1,600 kg) Shoulder height: 4 ft 11 in–5 ft 9 in (1.5–1.75 m) Length nose to tail: 11 ft 6 in–12 ft 10 in (3.5–3.9 m) Front horn length: 20–55 in (50–140 cm) Rear horn length: up to 22 in (55 cm).
The Black Rhino is much smaller than the White Rhino, the other African species. It has two well-developed horns of which the front one is the longer. The mouth, with its prehensile, pointed upper lip, is a distinctive characteristic when compared with the square-lipped profile of the White Rhino. Black Rhinos also show distinctive and individually unique wrinkling around their eyes—a useful tool for field identification of particular individuals.
The Black Rhino lives for 30–40 years in the wild, possibly a little longer. Females reach sexual maturity somewhere between four and seven years of age, while males are 7–10 years old before they are ready to breed. Breeding pairs stay together for 2–3 days, but sometimes for a few weeks. Females give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of about 15 months. A newborn calf weighs some 80–110 lbs (35–50 kg) and is sufficiently mobile to follow its mother after three days. Youngsters are weaned at around two years of age. Male calves will stay with their mothers for another year or so until the next calf is born, but female offspring might stay longer, forming small groups.
The Black Rhino browses on a wide range of trees and shrubs—more than 200 species are known to be on their menu. The prehensile upper lip is wonderfully adapted for the purpose, enabling the rhino to grasp leaves, twigs and small branches and strip them from the plant. The Black Rhino can eat grass but seldom does.
The Black Rhino is very agile and is the fastest of all the rhinos. It can reach 35 mph (55 kph) over short distances.
Sniffs and snorts are the usual vocalizations of the Black Rhino. When they do get together in groups, grunting also comes into play.
Black Rhinos are notoriously irascible and generally solitary, but groups are not unknown. A BBC film unit using high definition night vision cameras revealed “large midnight gatherings of these characteristically grumpy animals [showing] the highly endangered rhinos at their most intimate—greeting each other with gentle “kisses’ and romantic gestures”. Like White Rhinos, Black Rhino bulls are territorial but will accept a few subordinate males in their space. Outsiders, especially young and older bulls that are unable to defend themselves adequately, are met with fierce opposition—serious injuries and even death are not unknown in these battles. Females occupy ranges that tend to be larger than those of the males. They are generally solitary within their territories but for their most recent calf.
Black Rhinos, like White Rhinos, are confined to game reserves and private ranches where interaction with humans is limited to tourists, conservation staff and, sadly, poachers.
Listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red Data List. Listed on CITES Appendix I, with the exception of a small annual hunting quota for South Africa and Namibia.
As for the White Rhino, the greatest threat to the survival of the Black Rhino is poaching for its horn.