White rhinoceros

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White rhinoceros

The white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is the largest extant species of rhinoceros. It has a wide mouth used for grazing and is the most social of all rhino species. The white rhinoceros consists of two subspecies: the southern white rhinoceros, with an estimated 19,682–21,077 wild-living animals in the year 2015, and the much rarer northern white rhinoceros. The northern subspecies has very few remaining individuals, with only two confirmed left in 2018, both in captivity.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Perissodactyla
  • Family: Rhinocerotidae
  • Genus: Ceratotherium
  • Species: C. simum
  • Binomial name: Ceratotherium simum

Physical description

White rhinos are the second largest land mammal after the elephant. Adult males can reach 1.85m in height and tip the scales at a massive 3.6 tonnes. Females are considerably smaller but can still weigh in at an impressive 1.7 tonnes.

White rhinos are also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros due to their square (not pointed) upper lip. Their name comes from the Afrikaans word “weit”, which means wide and refers to the animal’s muzzle.

Compared to black rhinos, white rhinos have a longer skull, a less sharply defined forehead and a more pronounced shoulder hump. They have almost no hair and two horns. The front horn averages 60 cm, but occasionally reaches 150 cm in length.


The white rhinoceros is the largest of the five species of rhinoceros. It weighs slightly more on average than a hippopotamus despite a considerable mass overlap between these two species. It has a massive body and large head, a short neck and broad chest.

The head and body length is 3.7 to 4.5 m in males and 3.4 to 3.65 m in females, with the tail adding another 70 cm (28 in) and the shoulder height is 170 to 186 cm in the male and 160 to 177 cm in the female. The male, averaging about 2,300 kg is heavier than the female, at an average of about 1,700 kg. The largest size the species can attain is not definitively known, specimens of up to 3,600 kg are considered reliable, while larger sizes up to 4,500 kg have been claimed but are not verified.


One interesting fact about the White rhino is that, it is a herbivore and it can eat plants that are toxic to other animals. If it was not for these type of rhinos, the African plains would be over-run with these pesky toxic plants. Because the White rhino has a wider mouth, it tends to be a grazing animal. It feeds on grass and can eat grass faster than you could mow it. The White Rhinoceros is capable of going 4 or 5 days without water.

The horn

Horns are used as weapons against predators and for dominance and threat displays in contact with other rhinos. White rhinos have two horns: The Northern White Rhino’s larger front (anterior) horn is usually between 37″ – 40″ long, whereas the Southern White Rhino’s can reach 79″; while the smaller rear (posterior) horn of both subspecies reaches up to around 22″. As with all rhino species, the horns grow from the skin and consist of compressed strands of keratin (like fingernail fibres). They are not attached to the skull, but rest on bone pedicels at its dorsal part.


With their poor eyesight, white rhinos will charge first and then see if there is anything to worry about after. White rhinos rely on their sense of smell and hearing which is well developed. Because of this feature, they have been called, irritable and clumsy animals – this could not be further from the truth. White rhinos use their ears, nostrils, posture and a very complex breathing system for communication and expression.

White rhinoceros images

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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