Rhinos

02 May 2010 | Fact sheet

How many species of rhinos survive today and where do they live? What were they like in the past and which species are extinct? Are black rhinos really black?

1. How many species of rhinos survive today and where do they live?

Although rhinos were extremely diverse and widespread in the past, only five species survive today. All rhinos are under threat of extinction and all but one species is on the verge of extinction. Without drastic action, some rhinos could be extinct in the wild within the next 10-20 years. Only about 24,500 rhinos survive in the wild with another 1,250 in captivity. Of these, more than two-thirds are white rhinos:

White rhino (Ceratotherium simum): 17,500 individuals, living in Africa, in long and short-grass savannahs.
Black rhino (Diceros bicornis): 4,240 individuals, living in Africa, primarily in grasslands, savannahs and tropical bush lands.
Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis): 2,800-2,850 individuals, living in northern India and southern Nepal, mainly on flood plains, grasslands and occasionally in woodland.
Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis): 200 individuals, living in dense tropical forest, mainly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo.
Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus): 40-50 individuals, living in Indonesia (approximately 35-50) and in Vietnam (fewer than five). In Indonesia, Javan rhinos live only in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park.

2. What were rhinos like in the past and which species are extinct?

Rhinos have a long and distinguished history. Since their origin about 50 million years ago, they have been an extremely diverse group: some were like giraffes, some like horses, some like hippos, others like modern rhinos. The extinct rhinos were also more widespread, occurring in North America and Europe in addition to Africa and Asia. In the past, rhinos were not confined to the tropics but extended into temperate and even arctic regions.

Extinct rhinos include:

  • Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived, which resembles a very big, muscular giraffe.
  • Telecoeras, a single-horned, hippo-like grazer, once common in North America.
  • Woolly rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis), probably the most well known of the extinct rhinos.
     

3. Where did woolly rhinos live and what did they look like?

The body of the woolly rhino Coelodonta antiquitatis was covered with a thick and shaggy coat consisting of two types of hair, a thin dense undercoat and a long rigid covering hair. The species first appeared some 350,000 years ago and may have survived until as recently as 10,000 years ago. Woolly rhino fossils have been discovered throughout Europe and Asia. Well-preserved remains have been discovered frozen in ice and buried in soils. At Staruni, in what is now Ukraine, a complete carcass of a female Woolly Rhino was discovered buried in mud. The combination of oil and salt prevented the remains from decomposing, allowing the soft tissues to remain intact.

Common throughout Northern Europe and Eastern Asia (especially in what is now Russia), woolly rhino’s range extended from South Korea to Scotland and to Spain. In the latter part of the Pleistocene Period, the species may have had the largest range of any known rhinoceros, living or extinct.

4. Are black rhinos really black?

No, black rhinos are not black at all. The species probably derives its name as a distinction from the white rhino (which is not white at all either) or from the dark-colored local soil that often covers its skin after wallowing in mud.

5. Where do white rhinos get their name from?

The name ‘white rhinoceros’ is taken from the Afrikaans word describing its mouth: “weit”, meaning "wide". Early English settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the "weit" for "white".

White rhinos are also sometimes called 'the square-lipped rhinoceros'. Their upper lip lacks the prehensile ‘hook’ of some of the other rhino species. The white rhino is the largest species of land mammal after the elephant.

Source and more information: The International Rhino Foundation