Rhinoceros – What does the word mean and where did it come from?

Rhinoceros is derived through Latin from the Ancient Greek: ῥῑνόκερως, which is composed of ῥῑνο- (rhino-, “nose“) and κέρας (keras, “horn“) with a horn on the nose. The plural in English is rhinoceros or rhinoceroses. The collective noun for a group of rhinoceroses is crash or herd. The name has been in use since the 14th century.

What are the characteristics of the Rhinoceros?

There are two subspecies of white rhinoceros: the southern white rhinoceros (  Ceratotherium simum simum ) and the northern white rhinoceros ( Ceratotherium simum cotonni ). As of 2013, the southern subspecies has a wild population of 20 405 – making them the most abundant rhino species in the world.

However, the northern subspecies is critically endangered, with all that is known to remain two captive females. The white rhino has an immense body and large head, a short neck and broad chest. Females weigh 1 600kg ( 4 000 lb ) and the males weigh 2 400kg ( 5 000 lb ). The head-and-body is 3.5-4.6m ( 11-15 ft ) and the shoulder height is 1.8 – 2m ( 5.9-6.6 ft ). On its snout, it has two horns.


The front horn is larger than the other horn and averages 90 cm ( 35in ) in length and can reach 150cm ( 59in ). The white rhinoceros also has a prominent muscular hump that supports its relatively large head. The color of this animal can range from yellowish-brown to slate grey. White rhinoceros have a distinctive flat broad mouth that is used for grazing.

The name “black rhinoceros” ( Diceros bicornis ) was chosen to distinguish this species from the white rhinoceros ( Ceratotheriom simum ). This can be confusing, as the two species are not truly distinguishable by color. There are four subspecies of black rhino: South-central (  Diceros bicornis minor ), the most numerous, which once ranged from central Tanzania south through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to northern and eastern South Africa;

South-western ( Diceros bicornis occidentalis ) which are better adapted to the arid and semi-arid savannas of Namibia, Southern Angola, western Botswana, and western South Africa; East African (  Diceros bicornis longipes ) primarily in Tanzania; and West African ( Diceros bicornis michaeli ) which was declared extinct in November 2011. The native Tswana name keitloa describes a South African variation of the black rhino in which the posterior horn is equal to or longer than the anterior horn.


What is the size and weight of a Black Rhinoceros?

An adult black rhinoceros stands 1.50 – 1.75m ( 59 – 69in ) high at the shoulder and is 3.5 – 3.9m ( 11 – 13ft ) in length. An adult weighs from 850 to 1 600kg ( 1 870 to 3 530 lb ), exceptionally to 1 800kg ( 4 000lb ), with the females being smaller than the males. Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 50cm long, exceptionally up to 140cm. Sometimes, a third smaller horn may develop.

The black rhino is much smaller than the white rhino and has a mounted mouth, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding. During the latter half of the 20th century, their numbers were severely reduced from an estimated 70 000 in the late 1960s to a record low of 2 410 in 1995.


Since then, numbers have been steadily increasing at a continental level with numbers doubling to 4 880 by the end of 2010. Current numbers are however still 90% lower than three generations ago.

Do Rhinoceroses have predators and are they being poached?

The adult rhinoceros have no real predators in the wild other than humans. Young rhinos can, however, fall prey to big cats, crocodiles, African wild dogs, and hyenas. Although rhinos are larger and have a reputation for being tough, they are very easily poached; they visit waterholes daily and can be killed while they drink. As of December 2009, poaching increased globally while efforts to protect the rhino are considered increasingly ineffective.

The most serious estimate, that only 3% of poachers are successfully countered, is reported of Zimbabwe, while Nepal has largely avoided the crisis. Poachers have become more sophisticated. In South Africa, officials have called for urgent action against poaching after poachers killed the last female rhino in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve near Johannesburg.


Statistics from South African National Parks show that 333 rhinoceros were killed in South Africa in 2010, increasing to 668 by 2012, over 1 004 in 2013, and over 1 338 killed in 2015. In some cases, the rhinos were drugged and their horns removed, while in other instances more than the horns were taken.

What is the Horn trade and how does it affect the Rhinoceros?

International trade in rhinoceros horn has been declared illegal by the Convention on Internal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( CITES ) since 1977. A proposal by Swaziland to lift the international ban was rejected in October 2016. Domestic sale of rhinoceros horn in South Africa, home of 80% of the remaining rhino population, was banned as of 2009.

However, the ban was overturned in a court case in 2017, and South Africa plans to draft regulations for the sale of rhino horn, possibly including export for “non-commercial purposes”. The South African government has suggested that a legal trade of rhino horn be established, arguing that this could reduce poaching and prevent the extinction of this species.


Are there procedures put in place to prevent Rhinoceros poaching?

To prevent poaching in certain areas, the rhinos have been tranquilized and their horns removed safely. Armed park rangers, particularly in South Africa, are also working on the front lines to combat poaching, sometimes killing poachers who are caught in the act. A recent spike in rhino killings has made conservationists concerned about the future of the species.

In 2011, the Rhino Rescue Project ( organized by Ed and Lorinda Hern of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in Krugersdorp, South Africa ) began a horn-trade control method consisting of infusing the horns ( while on the living animal ) with a mixture of a pink dye and an acaricide ( to kill ticks ) – which I safe for the rhinos but toxic t humans. After sedating the animal, a worker drills holes into the horns, adds fittings and connects the cavity with rubber hoses to a two-foot-by-four-inch diameter metal container of the liquid mixture, which they can pressurize.


The infusion takes less than 20 minutes of the 45 minutes of anesthesia. Because of the high pressure on the animal’s internal organs from their large bodyweight, workers turn them every seven minutes while they are sedated. The procedure also includes inserting three FRID identification chips and taking DNA samples.

Because of the fibrous nature of the rhino horn, the pressurized dye infuses the interior of the horn but does not color the surface or affect rhino behavior. Depending on the quantity of horn a person consumes, experts believe the acaricide would cause nausea, stomach-ache, and diarrhea, and possibly convulsions, depending on the quantity.

baby rhino

It would not be fatal – the primary deterrent is the knowledge that the treatment has been applied, communicated by signs posted at the refuges. Proponents claim that the dye can not be removed from the horns, and remains visible on x-ray scanners even when the horn is ground to a fine powder.

Did you know:

  • The name rhinoceros means “nose horn” and is often shortened to rhino.
  • There are five different species of rhinoceros, three native to Southern Asia and two native to Africa. They are the Black Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Indian Rhinoceros, Javan Rhinoceros, and Sumatran Rhinoceros.
  • The White rhino can weigh over 3 500kg ( 7 700lb ).
  • The White rhinoceros are generally considered to be the 2nd largest land mammal ( after the elephant ).
  • Three of the five rhinoceros species are listed as being critically endangered.
  • Rhinoceros have thick, protective skins.
  • Relative to their large body size, rhinoceros have small brains.
  • Rhinoceros are herbivores ( plant eaters ).
  • A group of rhinoceros is called a “herd” or a “crash”.
  • Despite their name, the White Rhinoceros are actually grey.