Ceratotherium simumwhite rhinoceros

Geographic Range

Formerly, during the 19th century, in two separate regions of Africa: 1) Southern Chad, Central African Republic, southwest Sudan, northeast Zaire, and northwest Uganda; 2) southeast Angola, portions of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, eastern Namibia, and northeast South Africa. Current range a mere fragment of this and restricted to game preserves and national parks.


Primarily open woodland with nearby open grassland, thick brush, and water. White rhinos prefer flat lands and can occasionally be found in swampy regions.

Physical Description

Head and body length= 335-420 cm with a tail of 50-70 cm. Shoulder height= 150-185 cm. Males are larger than females. White rhinos are among the largest living land animals. They are usually light gray to dark yellow. They have very little hair, with a small amount being found on the tips of their tails and ears and intermittently scattered on their bodies. They have two horns; the front horn is longer and often attains a length of 150 cm. The head is very long and there may be a large hump on the neck. The ears are long, and they seem to pivot freely. White rhinos lack canines and incisors and have a wide (20 cm) flexible front lip.

  • Range mass
    1440 to 3600 kg
    3171.81 to 7929.52 lb


Breeding occurs throughout the year with two peak periods in summer and fall. During breeding, the dominant, usually solitary, males stay with a receptive female from 1-3 weeks. During this courtship, the pair often chases, clash horns, and vocalize with each other. After mating, the female leaves the bull's territory. The gestation period is around 16 months. The single young weighs around 50 kg and is very active soon after birth. Calves are weaned anywhere from 1-2 years after birth. After about 2-3 years, the female drives the calf away and mates again. Sexual maturity is reached around 6 years in females and 10-12 years in males.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    515 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1643 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1643 days



White rhinos are believed to have the most complex behavior of all the rhinoceroses. Home ranges vary in size, depending on resources and region, from .75-8 sq. km. Rhinos spend almost their entire lives within their home range. Groups of as many as 14 rhinos have been observed but smaller ones are more common. Dominant bulls are usually solitary and will confront any invading bull. Fights are rare and confrontations usually consist of slight horn butting, false charges, and other displays. Bulls tolerate females and sub-adult males in their territory. They mark their territories by spreading dung, spraying urine, dragging their feet, and damaging plants with their horns. White rhinos are rather unagressive towards other species. It has been reported that they can be safely approached to with a few meters in the wild, but I personally would not recommened this! This behavior has made them a very easy animal to poach. This species often mud bathes to cool off and remove ectoparasites.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

White rhinos are grazers, feeding on grasses that they crop with their wide front lip. Their short legs, long head reaching almost to the ground, and wide mouth are used in combination with a side to side head movement to eat massive quantities of grass.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Although not beneficial, white rhino horns are valued at thousands of dollars on the black market. The white rhino also is a very large draw at zoos across the world and for tourists who come to many poor African countries just to get a glimpse to this animal.

Conservation Status

The white rhino is one of the most charismatic, recognizable, and widely studied endangered animals. Poachers have long sought the white rhino for its horn, which in some cultures is thought to have medicinal affects. Recent habitat destruction and urbanization have also affected white rhino populations. Droughts affect their numbers by killing the plants on which they browse. Since white rhinos do not have a large home range, a widescale drought can be devastating. Political disruptions in some African countries have weakened many conservation efforts. The white rhino is listed by the IUCN and all other conservation groups as endangered. Many game wardens and researchers routinely risk their lives to help protect this species from poachers. New and innovative management programs are being developed to help save this magnificent creature. Just over 4000 white rhinos exist in the wild today.

Other Comments

Some game managers sedate white rhinos and remove their horns to deter poachers, sometimes even attaching a fake "horn." Poachers may still kill these animals so that they don't waste their time tracking them again. The term "white" rhino is actually a misinterpretation of the native African word "widje," meaning wide, referring to the wide mouths of these rhinos.


Eric J. Ellis (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Burton, John A. 1987. The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. The Stephen Greene Press. Pg. 162.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Pgs. 1330-1333.

Parker, Sybil P. [Editor]. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 4. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. Pgs. 614-620.

Rhino Internet Solutions, 2004. "Follow the Rhinos" (On-line). Accessed August 18, 2004 at http://www.followtherhinos.com/rhinolinks/index.shtml.