There are two species of rhinoceros found exclusively in Africa, the black and white rhino.
You might be fooled by the name and think to yourself: why do I only know about gray rhinos? But in reality, there are no white or black rhinos in color. The two types of existing African rhinos are both gray. Some suggest that the name “white” came from a mistranslation from the Afrikaan language “weird” to indicate the wide lip that characterizes white rhinos as opposed to the hook-shaped lip of black rhinos.
The shape of their lip is the easiest and most common way to distinguish the two species of rhinos, but there are other differences. Let’s take a look at the main differences between the two species.
PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES & DIET
The two species of rhinos have distinguishable physical features resulting from the adaptation of different behaviors.
White rhinos tend to be significantly larger than black rhinos. Their body is long, imponent and barrel shaped. Black rhinos, on the other hand, are shorter, sturdier and more compact. An adult white rhino can weigh up to 2,300 kg, while a black rhino doesn’t usually go over 1,000 kilograms. Also, white rhino tend to have relatively flat backs with a bump towards the lower part of their body compared to a black rhino which has a deep arch in its back.
The greatest difference, however, is the shape of a rhino’s mouth and lips. What hasn’t been mentioned is that the difference originates from different food preferences.
White rhinos are grazer so flat and broad lips serve excellently to the purpose. They work as “lawnmowers” with strong muscles used to grip and tear the grass for more effective feeding.
Instead, black rhinos feed on leaves and branches. Accordingly, their lips shape has evolved into a pointed lip (with the shape of a hook) to be able to grab hold of the trees.
The different diets also impact the body shape of the two species: feeding on the grass resulted in white rhinos having a weakened neck and small eyes since they don’t have to raise their heads to feed. For this reason, white rhinos tend to keep their heads low.
On the contrary, black rhinos have to carry their head up to be able to feed off trees.
When looking at the ears of a rhino, you’ll realize that nature doesn’t put anything left to chance.
White rhinos have poor vision and a head that always points on the ground. Thus, for this species, the ears are extremely important to keep safe. White rhinos’ ears are tubular and very long, acting as little satellites to keep them aware of the surroundings.
Instead, black rhinos are less dependent on just one sense, as they have better eye-sight than white rhinos. This results in black rhinos having smaller and rounded ears.
The last physical difference that distinguishes the white rhino from the black rhino is the size of their horns. A white rhino will usually have a longer front horn and a much shorter second horn. On the other hand, black rhinos have shorter front horns than white rhinos, but the second horn is slightly shorter. The two horns of black rhinos are therefore more similar in length.
HABITAT AND BEHAVIOR:
In terms of habitat, black and white rhinos tend to share the same habitat, however, you’ll generally find white rhinos in grasslands and fields, while black rhinos are most commonly spotted in dense brush. Of course, that is because of their food preferences.
Behavior-wise, black rhinos have a reputation for being more aggressive and territorial than white rhinos. White rhinos are calmer and more placid, probably because of their poor eye-sight. Both have a life-span that can go over forty years.
Where Can You See Them?
These endangered animals are sadly becoming a rarity to spot during safaris as they are still being poached for their horns.
Some estimates suggest that there are only 3,000 black rhinos left in the wild and 15,000 white rhinos. It is becoming increasingly hard to spot rhinos that were once abundant animals in Subsaharan Africa.
Today, black rhinos are scattered around and can be found in areas of Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
White rhinos are also quite rare and can be found in the biggest concentrations in South Africa and Uganda, but are also present in areas of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
So now you know about all the main differences to distinguish a white rhino from a black one. In case you are lucky to see one during your safari, you’ll know exactly what species you are looking at!