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Despite its name, the black rhinoceros is actually yellow-brown to dark-brown in color, with the specific skin color depending on soil conditions within an individual rhino's habitat.The skin is hairless except for a patch of short, fringe-like hair on the ears. It averages 10-12 feet in length, stands 4.5-6 feet at the shoulder, and weighs up to 3,000 pounds; females are smaller than males. The two horns can be up to 5 feet long, with the front horn almost always longer than rear one. The black rhino has a poor sense of vision, but keen senses of hearing and smell.
The black rhinoceros can be distinguished from the white rhinoceros by its pointed, prehensile upper lip; the white rhinoceros has square lips. The black rhino also has a smaller head and shorter ears and horns than the white rhino.
Distribution and Habitat
The black rhinoceros is found in widely scattered populations within a range generally bounded by Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa. It inhabits a wide variety of habitats, from desert to grassland, but is most common in areas where grasslands and forests merge, and always within a few miles of water.
The black rhinoceros uses its prehensile lip to pluck leaves and fruit from tree branches, and also browses on twigs, woody shrubs, small trees, legumes, grass, and bark.
Breeding can occur at any time of the year, but tends to peak during prime environmental conditions. The male courts the female by following her and her offspring for one or two weeks until she shows willingness to mate; he will not continue his "pursuit" if at any time the female expresses her displeasure at his intentions, and will move on to another female if she ultimately refuses his attempt to mate.
One calf is born after a gestation period of about 15 months. The calf can browse on its own at about one month and will be fully weaned at about 18 months, but will stay with its mother for up to four years. The mother will not breed again until her calf is independent. Females reach sexual maturity at 5-7 years, males at 7-8 years. Black rhinos can live up to 35 years in the wild.
Black rhinos are solitary with the only constant groups being a mother and her offspring, although small, temporary groups will form at wallow and salt licks. They are also fairly sedentary, moving about primarily in the morning and evening and spending the rest of their days wallowing in mud or water holes.
Both males and females maintain territories, but females tend to be more tolerant of encroachment than males. When two females meet they tend to simply approach each other cautiously, nudge each other slightly, and then move on, but males will display open aggression when meeting and, if neither moves away, will charge at each other until one "surrenders." Male-female interactions vary depending on whether a calf is present and whether one or the other is ready to mate.
The black rhino is less aggressive than the white rhino, preferring to run rather than face potential danger. Once the initial startle reflex has passed, however, it will often turn around and charge at whatever startled it, but more out of curiosity than for defensive or offensive purposes.
Although both white and black rhinos are hunted for their horns, those of the black rhinoceros are much more highly prized and it is now listed as a critically endangered species.
This page was last updated on February 17, 2017.