April 27th, 2013 by James Ayre
The black rhino, also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros, is a critically endangered species of rhinoceros, that was previously endemic throughout much of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa, and also to certain regions in West Africa.
The species has seen a dramatic drop in population numbers and genetic diversity in recent years. Many of the subspecies are now extinct; the Southern Black Rhinoceros, the North-Eastern Black Rhinoceros, the Chobe Black Rhinoceros, and the Western Black Rhinoceros, are all extinct. The remaining species are of very limited genetic stock and will likely face significant problems because of this, including: inbreeding and the problems that accompany this, increased susceptibility to disease, loss of adaptability to changing environments/climate, etc.
As recently as 1900, there were still an estimated few hundred thousand or so black rhinos left in the world, today there are only about 4,000 or so. And these 4,000 are living in relatively small populations that are completely intersected and separated by human development. Which means that the separate populations can not easily interact/breed.
Even if the very high rate of death by poaching were to be significantly reduced (not likely), the problems that accompany very limited genetic diversity are severe… And accompanying the incredible rate of death by poaching, is an ever-continuing loss of habitat. Human populations are continuing to expand at rapid rates all over the world, leading to large-scale deforestation, species extinctions, and in many instances desertification.
It’s easy for us as westerners to disengage from the environmental destruction occurring in places such as Africa or Asia, or to pass judgement on the people living in these regions, so it’s worth noting that Europe and the Americas were until very recently populated by megafauna very similar to that which currently lives in regions such as Africa. Cave lions, hyenas, cave bears, aurochs, several species of rhinoceros, giant elks, mammoths, etc, all inhabited Europe until relatively recently, and died out largely as a result of human influence/habitat destruction. The Americas, incredibly, even had a species of cheetah; along with the American lion, the dire wolf, the ice age bison, the American horse, several species of camel, a giant beaver species, etc. It would be a shame for the last remaining megafauna of the world to also go extinct, but that appears to the way that things are going.
Here’s some more information on the very interesting animals, via Wikipedia:
“An adult black rhinoceros stands 52–71 inches high at the shoulder and is 9.2–12 ft in length, plus a tail of about 24 inches in length. An adult typically weighs from 1,800 to 3,100 lbs, however unusually large male specimens have been reported to weigh as much as 4,850–6,380 lbs. Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 20 inches long, exceptionally up to 55 inches. The longest known black rhinoceros horn measured nearly 4.9 ft in length.”
“These horns are used for defense, intimidation, and digging up roots and breaking branches during feeding. The black rhino is smaller than the white rhino and has a pointed and prehensile upper lip, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding. The white rhinoceros has square lips used for eating grass. The black rhinoceros can also be distinguished from the white rhinoceros by its size, smaller skull, and ears; and by the position of the head, which is held higher than the white rhinoceros, since the black rhinoceros is a browser and not a grazer.”
“Their thick-layered skin protects the rhino from thorns and sharp grasses. Black rhinos have poor eyesight, relying more on hearing and smell. Their ears possess a relatively wide rotational range to detect sounds. An excellent sense of smell alerts rhinos to the presence of predators.”
“Although they are typically solitary animals, with the exception of coming together to mate, mothers and calves will sometimes congregate in small groups for short periods of time. Males are not as sociable as females, although they will sometimes allow the presence of other rhinos. They are not very territorial and often intersect other rhino territories. Home ranges vary depending on season and the availability of food and water. Generally they have smaller home ranges and larger density in habitats that have plenty of food and water available, and vice versa if resources are not readily available. Black rhinos have also been observed to have a certain area they tend to visit and rest frequently called ‘houses’ which are usually on a high ground level.”
“The black rhino has a reputation for being extremely aggressive, and charges readily at perceived threats. They have even been observed to charge tree trunks and termite mounds. Black rhinos will fight each other, and they have the highest rates of mortal combat recorded for any mammal: about 50% of males and 30% of females die from combat-related injuries. Adult rhinos normally have no natural predators, thanks to their imposing size as well as their thick skin and deadly horns. However, adult black rhinos have fallen prey to crocodiles in exceptional circumstances. Calves and, very seldom, small sub-adults may be preyed upon by lions as well.”
“The life expectancy in natural conditions (without poaching pressure) is from 35 to 50 years.”
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