Two subspecies are recognized—the Southern White Rhino (C. s. simum) and the Northern White Rhino (C. s. cottoni), which is functionally extinct.
The White Rhino is the most numerous of the living rhinos with a population estimate of 17,212–18,915 individuals. The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) puts the current population at 18,067 in its briefing document for the CITES Cop 18 meeting set for September 2019. Until the recent poaching onslaught the population was stable and increasing, but it is currently in decline.
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 the length of time of separation, coupled with morphological differences, justifies their recognition 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 the largest of all the living rhinos. The wide, square-lipped mouth profile coupled with a generally low-slung head posture and a 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 reach 6–7 years. 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 period 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.
A specialist grazer—the White Rhino only feeds on grasses 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 drinking if water resources are scarce.
The White Rhino is remarkably agile and fast for its bulk. It can reach 25–30 mph (40–50 kph) in short bursts.
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” which are 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. Scent marking, as with other rhinos, is an important part of communicating with other individuals. Communal dung middens, mostly situated at territorial boundaries, are used by both 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 on CITES Appendix I except for the South African and Eswatini populations which are listed on Appendix II.
Although poaching rates have dropped slightly from the highs of 2014 and 2015, it has to be noted that there are now fewer White Rhinos to poach. The illegal killing of rhinos for their horns remains a serious present and future threat.