Two subspecies are recognized—the Southern White Rhino (C. s. simum) and the Northern White Rhino (C. s. cottoni), which is functionally extinct.
In its “2021 State of the Rhino Report,” the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) sets the White Rhino’s population at around 18,000. This estimate is based on the African Rhino Specialist Group’s (AfRSG) population assessment at 18,067 in its briefing document for the CITES Cop 18 meeting held in September 2019. However, the IRF and most conservationists would agree that such numbers are not possible given the ravages of recent poaching. A total of no more than 15,500 is more probable. Nevertheless, the White Rhino remains the most numerous of all the living rhinos.
In pre-historical times the White Rhino would have roamed widely throughout the African savanna. Today, two widely separated subspecies occur, one in north-central Africa (now functionally extinct) and the other in southern Africa. It has been argued that they have been separated for so long that, coupled with morphological differences, they should be recognized as two distinct species, but this is disputed. (See maps)
The White Rhino favors open grassland and savanna.
Weight: 4,800–7,700 lbs (1,800–3,500 kg) Shoulder height: 5 ft 10 in–6 ft 7 in (1.8–2 m) Length nose to tail: 11 ft 6 in–15 ft (3.5–4.6 m) Front horn length: 37–40 in (94 cm–1.02 m) Rear horn length: up to 22 in (55 cm)
The White Rhino is marginally bigger and heavier than the Indian Rhino, making it the largest of all the living rhinos. Its wide, square-lipped mouth profile, generally low-slung head posture, and noticeably large shoulder hump, are distinctive. It has two well-developed horns, of which the front one is the longer.
The White Rhino lives for about 40 years in the wild. Females reach sexual maturity at 4–5 years of age but do not reproduce until they are 6–7 years old. Males tend not to mate until they are 10–12 years old. Females give birth, generally to a single calf, after a gestation period of about 16 months, with a gap of 2–3 years between calves. Weaning begins as soon as two weeks after birth, but calves may continue suckling for up to a year.
The White Rhino is a specialist grazer, feeding on grass with a characteristic “mowing” action. The wide, flat upper lip is well adapted for the purpose. White Rhinos drink regularly when water is available but can survive for about 4–5 days without water if resources are scarce.
The White Rhino is remarkably agile and fast for its bulk. In short bursts, it can reach 25–30 mph (40–50 kph).
Squeaks, wails, and snarls are all part of the White Rhino’s range of vocal communication.
White Rhinos are sedentary. Females are more social than the other species, associating in small stable groups known as “crashes,” usually made up of two companion females and their latest offspring. Males are predominantly solitary and occupy small territories, usually made up of a dominant bull and one to three “satellite” bulls that are tolerated if submissive. Intruding bulls are met with aggression. Female home ranges are much larger and overlap. As with other rhinos, Scent marking is essential in communicating with other individuals. Communal dung middens, mainly situated at territorial boundaries, are used by males and females. Males also engage in ritualized dung kicking and spraying.
White Rhinos are now confined to game reserves and private ranches where interaction with humans is limited to tourists, rangers, other conservation staff and, sadly, poachers.
Listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red Data List. Listed in CITES Appendix I except for the South African and Eswatini populations listed in Appendix II.
Although poaching rates have dropped slightly from the highs of 2014 and 2015. However, the fact that there are now fewer White Rhinos and they are more difficult to find is likely to be the reason rather than a reduction in demand. The illegal killing of rhinos for their horns remains a serious present and future threat.