The Black Rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, is native to the eastern and central areas of Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It is a large and primitive looking mammal that in fact dates from the Miocene era millions of years ago.
The Black Rhino is also known as the Hook-Lipped Rhino as the upper lip juts out beyond the lower. A herbivorous browser, rather than a grazer, the Black Rhino's triangular-shaped upper lip which ends in a mobile grasping point is used to consume large varieties of vegetation including leaves, buds, shoots of plants, bushes and trees. The horns too are used for digging up roots and breaking branches whilst feeding. They have various habitats but prefer areas with dense, woody vegetation, feeding primarily in the morning and evening.
The adult rhino weighs between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds and is 10 to 12 feet long. It has two horns, the anterior being longer than the posterior and averaging 50 centimetres in length. Occasionally a third posterior horn is present. Their horns are made up of keratin, the same protein that goes to make up human hair and nails. The Black rhino has a good sense of smell and excellent hearing, but has very poor eyesight. Their average life span is 40 years.
Contrary to its name the colour of the Black Rhino is actually slate-grey. Their thick layered skin is hairless and harbours many external parasites such as ticks and crabs. Rhinos take mud and dust baths to keep cool and discourage biting insects. The tick bird or oxpecker is named 'askari wa kifaru' in Swahhili meaning 'the rhino's guard.' As well as eating the ticks from the rhino's hide it will also warn of danger in an extremely noisy manner.
Rhino males are solitary whereas females are usually found together with a calf and sometimes an older daughter. Territories are marked by spraying urine or by depositing dung piles. Although conflicts arise when strangers move through an occupied area, rhinos are usually tolerant of familiar rhinos in adjacent territories. Their acute sense of smell is their primary method of detecting danger. Repeated puffing snorts and grunts signal an alarm call or an angry charge at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
Once the most numerous of all rhino species, the Black Rhino has been the target of the greatest hunting pressure of all. In 1970 the world population of Black Rhinos was 65,000, however, by 1980 the number had dropped to 15,000. Today, it is thought that fewer than 4,000 Black Rhinos remain. Rhinos are victims of the animal parts trade and have been illegally hunted almost to extinction. It is understood that 90% of rhinos are killed by poachers for their horns.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums has established the Black Rhino ‘Species Survival Plan’ to optimise reproduction of this endangered species within the protected confines of North American zoos. This is being accomplished through programs of research and on-going animal exchanges.
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