Iconic, amazing, and critically endangered Rhinos
Less than 150 years ago, millions of rhinos roamed the African savannahs and shrublands, today they’re found in just a few African countries, most notably Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa.
There are two types of rhinos found in Africa, the black rhino, and the white rhino. At one time, several regionally defined subspecies occurred here, too.
Their massive size and fearsome aspect when threatened made these creatures prized trophies for early European settlers and the Black rhino even earned a place on the Big Five list of most dangerous animals to hunt.
Today, the term ‘’Big Five’’ refers to animals we’d all like to see on safari, and the white rhino has made its way onto the list too.
The Ebb and Flow of Fortunes for Rhinos in Africa
Thanks to relentless hunting, African rhino numbers declined dramatically during the colonial era and then, in the 1970s, another threat emerged.
At this time, demand for rhino horn for the Asian medical market increased markedly, further straining rhino populations and driving the white rhino to the very brink of extinction.
Black rhino populations also declined dramatically during this time, decreasing by 96% to leave just 2 300 animals alive in the wild. In 1996, African governments and conservation agencies stepped in, adopting extreme and dedicated conservation methods to protect the remaining black rhinos.
Strategic relocations and relentless anti-poaching initiatives have paid off, and today black rhino numbers are slowly increasing once again. Conservation efforts rescued white rhinos from the edge of extinction increasing their numbers to over 18 000. Currently, this subspecies is most threatened by poaching and numbers have declined by 12% over the last ten years.
Poaching remains a huge threat to both the black and white rhino, with wealthy global consortiums taking advantage of poor rural folk to do the dirty and dangerous poaching work for them. In this way, rhino conservation has taken on a societal aspect as well as a conservation one.
Tourism is seen as the biggest hope for all endangered species in Africa as these animals help to bring in vital income for people living close to touristic safari areas.
Across the continent, Rhino conservation charities need all the help they can get, so if you’re in a position to donate, please consider the following organizations:
These organizations have an integrated approach to tackling rhino poaching by addressing both social and conservation issues. When you stay at a game reserve in Namibia or South Africa, you’ll pay a conservation fee as part of your accommodation and this goes towards conservation, too.
Black Vs White: What’s the Difference
Like elephants, rhinos adopt the color of their latest mud bath, so you can’t distinguish between the two based on their skin color. They’re both grey.
The name white rhino comes from the Dutch term, ‘wijde lip’ which means wide lip. This refers to the shape of its mouth with its square appearance when viewed from the front.
The shape of the white rhino’s mouth is ideal for grazing, which is its preferred eating style.
The black rhino earned its name simply by not being a white rhino, or possibly because of its famously short fuse. Black rhinos are much more aggressive than their white counterparts and known to charge when provoked.
These rhinos have a pointed top lip which serves them well while browsing leafy shrubs.
Due to their different menu preferences, you’re most likely to come across white rhinos in grasslands, while black rhinos prefer dense thickets.
Black rhinos are largely solitary creatures, although the young stay with their mothers for up to two years after birth. White rhinos are more likely to form small groups with up to 14 members comprising mainly females and their offspring.
Both black and white male rhinos live alone, defending territories of about 2.5 square kilometres.
In the wild rhinos can live for up to 35 years if they survive poaching.
Both species of rhino are known to have spectacularly bad eyesight, which accounts for their unpredictable natures. While their retinas are anatomically capable of spotting shapes at up to 200m, they do not have binocular vision due to the location of their eyes at the side of their head.
They make up for any shortfalls in vision with an excellent sense of hearing and a keen sense of smell.
The Role of the Rhino in the Ecosystem
Rhinos play a vital role in the African ecosystem. They’re the lawnmowers and bush cutters of the landscape.
Both types of rhinos consume huge amounts of vegetation daily, fertilizing the soil and spreading seeds in their dung as far as they go.
Due to their rarity, rhinos are also a major drawcard for tourists, making them important role players in the modern African tourist industry.
Where to See Rhinos in Africa
While rhinos aren’t yet abundant throughout Africa, there are many game reserves and conservation areas where you might come across them.
- Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Etosha National Park, Namibia
- Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
- Mkhaya Game Reserve, Swaziland
- Ol Peteja conservancy, Kenya
- Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, South Africa
In Namibia, you may also encounter the extremely rare desert-adapted black rhino when you visit Damaraland.
Tick Rhinos Off Your Safari List
Despite the many challenges faced by rhinos in the wild, there’s a good chance you’ll come across them during your African travels, especially if you opt for a guided game drive or walk.
As a world leader in conservation, Namibia is one of the best places to go in search of these and more incredible beasts. Browse our travel guide for more information on Africa’s best destinations and start planning your ultimate safari now.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.