Rhinos tend to be the colour of their last mud bath, so the names ‘black’ or ‘white’ rhino can be misleading. Fortunately there are many other ways to tell the difference between the two.
The main difference between the rhinos is the shape of their mouths. Black rhinos have the typical pointed upper lip of the browser, while white rhinos have a flat wide muzzle to facilitate their grazing habits. It is believed that the word ‘white’ rhino may even have evolved from the word ‘wide’ or ‘wyd’ in Afrikaans which would then refer to the wide mouth of the white rhino.
This brings us to the difference in their diets. White rhinos prefer grazing on open park-like savannah areas, whereas black rhinos are found in dense scrubland where they browse on branches and leaves.
Their body shapes are slightly different too; white rhino have a longer neck and head than their bad-tempered counterparts and are slightly taller with longer tails. The black rhino has a more evenly proportioned body with a slightly dipped back, while white rhino have lowered hips and a sloping back.
White rhinos stand 1.8m at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2 tons and black rhinos reach 1.6m and 1 400kg.
The Black rhino’s reputation for volatility stems from their poor eyesight (which is shared with their white cousin) and timid natures, which make them nervous and unpredictable. They generally, and wisely, make tracks the minute they catch a whiff of humans. Cows with calves can be particularly prone to charging anything that they perceive as a threat no matter how remote.
White rhinos hang around in groups of about 3 individuals while black rhinos are solitary creatures.
Risk of extinction
Unfortunately, the main similarity between the two is that their numbers are in steep decline thanks to poaching and both species are severely endangered. White rhino numbers currently stand at around 20 000 and black rhino number just 4 800, although these figures decrease daily. Even Namibia, with its outstanding conservation record is still suffering losses due to poaching.
There are many organisations around the world that support rhino conservation and they all need as much support as they can get, some of these are:
The best places to spot rhinos in Namibia include Etosha National Park, Damaraland and the Waterberg.