Even the avid safari-goer has asked the difference between the white and black rhino. It is a common question and for some, a rhino is a rhino. But there are in fact five different species of rhino left in the world and we can see two of them in Africa; namely the black and white rhinos.
The reason that so many people ask this question is that their respective names don’t make identifying them any easier. Both species are in fact grey, but there are many other distinctive features and characteristics that distinguish the two. Some of these include appearance and diet, habitat, and behaviour.
The white rhino is substantially larger in size than the black rhino and has a long barrel-shaped body while the black rhino is more compactly built.
The white rhino has a broad, flat and muscular square-lip for grazing and the black rhino has a pointed hook-lip used to feed on leaves, shoots and branches.
The white rhino has a long face, small eyes and a small neck because it doesn’t need to lift its large head to feed.
From the side profile, you notice that the white rhino has a relatively flat back with a small hump at the end of its back whereas the black rhino has a deep arch in its back.
They also have distinguishable ears. Because the white rhino has poor eyesight and its head is always towards the ground, its hearing is heightened and important to its overall awareness and safety. The white rhino has very long, tubular ears that funnel sound into them and which it swivels independently like little satellites even when it is resting.
The black rhino has its head raised most of the time meaning it is less dependent on just one of its senses. As a result, its ears are much smaller and rounder in shape.
If you look closely, you will see that their horn-size differs slightly too. The white rhino has a longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second horn, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.
Sometimes the habitats of the black and white rhino can have proximity, but usually, they have their distinct areas where they can be found more commonly. For example, a white rhino will usually be found in open areas where it is easy for them to graze and the black rhino will be found in areas with high thicket density where he can feed off trees and bushes.
Due to different habitats and diets, the white rhino is more likely to keep its head towards the ground and the black rhino will usually have its head facing upwards as it spends most of the time feeding off branches.
The black rhino is often described as more aggressive and inquisitive than the white rhino. With heightened senses than the white rhino, if the black rhino picks up the scent of a threat it will swivel its body and keep its head held high to pinpoint danger.
The white rhino is more likely to keep its head low and rather swivel its ears to keep safe and often run from a threat. However, do not underestimate them as they are still potentially dangerous.
Let’s appreciate our wonderful rhinos and help protect them for future generations to witness their grandeur. General estimates suggest that there are only around 15 000 white and 3 000 black rhinos left in the wild. The IUCN lists the white rhino as Near Threatened and the black rhino as Critically Endangered. This is one of the crucial reasons that conservation areas such as Londolozi Game Reserve and the Greater Kruger National Park are in place today.