Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)


  • Name: Black rhinoceros
  • Latin: Diceros bicornis
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: Africa
  • Lifespan: 35-50 years
  • AKA: Hook-lipped rhinoceros


  • Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
  • Order: Perissodactyla (Odd-toed Ungulates)
  • Family: Rhinocerotidae (Rhinos)
  • Genus: Diceros (Double Horned Rhinoceros)
  • Species: Diceros bicornis (Black Rhinoceros)


  • Height: 132-180cm (52-71in)
  • Weight: 800-1,400kg (1,800-3,100lbs)

The black rhino is a large, grey coloured animal with thick overlapping skin. They are smaller in size than the other African rhino, the white rhino and have less of a pronounced hump on the back of their necks. They are hairless apart from the ears, tip of the tail and eyelashes. They are distinguished from white rhinos by their pointed upper lip which is used for browsing from trees and bushes.

The black rhinoceros has two horns on its face made of keratin. The front horn is larger than the other and grow as much as three inches (eight centimetres) in a year and can grow up to five feet (1 ½ meters) long. The black rhino is slightly sexually dimorphic with the males being fractionally larger than the females.


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  • White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) -NEAR THREATENED-
  • Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) -CRITICALLY ENDANGERED-
  • Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) -CRITICALLY ENDANGERED-
  • Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) -VULNERABLE-

Habitat & Distribution

Black rhino can be mainly found living in grassland – forest transition zones but can range from the desert in south-western Africa to montane forests in Kenya. They often restrict their territories to areas within 25km of water sources and can also be found in mud or water wallows to cool themselves.

Historically, they could be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of the Congo basin. However, in the 1970s-80s, a poaching epidemic caused numbers to decrease by 40-90%. Since 1981, the black rhino has disappeared from many areas of Africa including Ethiopia, Malawi, Sudan and Botswana.

Today, 98% of the total population of black rhino is found in just four African countries; South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. 40% of the total wild population live in South Africa.

Map of distribution of the black rhinoceros
Map of distribution of the black rhinoceros


Unlike their cousins, the white rhino, black rhinos are browsers and eat leaves, twigs and branches. Consumption of long grass is usually very low, making up only 30-40% of their overall diet. If water is available, they will drink everyday however; they also handle drought conditions very well and can go up to five days without drinking so long as their food contains enough moisture. If only dry forage is available, they can be found within a day’s travel to a water source. They are also not effected by the poisonous tannins that can increase during a time of drought.

The black rhinoceros feeds mostly during the early morning and the evening and use their horns to dig up roots and break branches for easier access to their food. Like zebra and horses, the black rhinoceros is a hind gut fermenter and digests the high amount of cellulose it eats using bacterial fermentation.


The black rhinoceros is a usually solitary animal, only coming together to breed however, they have recently been observed coming together at night at water holes to form bonds. They are not very territorial and home ranges depend on the availability of food and water. These animals are also known to be aggressive and due to their poor eyesight, will charge at anything it deems a threat (they have been observed to charge at tree trunks and termite mounds). They will also fight each other and have the highest rate of mortal combat of any mammal.

Black rhino have a varied vocabulary of vocalisations including growling; trumpeting (when fighting), long snorts (anger) and sneeze like calls (indicate danger). When started by a newcomer, they wrinkle their nose, prick their ears and release short snorts. A high pitched honk indicates fearfulness and a puffing snort is a common greeting between males and females.


Males will begin courtship by following the female for 1-2 weeks and will accompany her even as she sleeps. Before mating occurs, the male will walk with a stiff legged manner and brush his horn along the ground in front of the female. Many mounting attempts are usually made by the male before he is successful however; if the female isn’t ready she will make a series of attacks and charges at the male. When copulation is eventually successful, it can last between 20-40 minutes.

Breeding can occur at any time of the year and gestation will last for around 15 months. The female will carry and give birth to one offspring at a time which will weigh around 20-25kg at birth. The young are weaned after 18 months but will remain dependant on their mother for up to four years. Females will reach sexual maturity at 5-7 years and males, 7-8 years.

Young black rhinoceros
Young black rhinoceros


  1. Black rhino have a pointed, prehensile lip which is used to pull branches and stems into its mouth for consumption.
  2. Black rhinos have a behavioural adaptation of wallowing in mud. This behaviour provides a natural sun block and bug repellent.
  3. Black rhino have two horns positions on the front of their face. These are used for fighting with rivals and breaking branches for easier access to food.
  4. Despite their large size, black rhino are very graceful on their feet and can run at speeds of up to 30mph.


Poaching is the biggest threat to black rhinos. Rhino horn is in high demand on the black market and is used in Traditional Asian Medicines as a cure for fever, also the poaching wave in the 1970’s and 80’s was to meet the demand in Yemen for ceremonial daggers made from rhino horn. Unfortunately, while the demand for rhino horn exists, there will be people willing to exploit it.

Black rhino are also affected by hunting. In the early 20th century, European settlers killed huge numbers of black rhino as vermin. They were also killed for food or sheer amusement and were common for five or six to be killed in a single day. As ever, habitat loss is also a threat.

In 1970, there were around 65,000 individual black rhinoceroses and by 1992 there remained only 2, 300. 96% of the total population of black rhino had disappeared during this time.


IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Several groups around the world are currently working towards the conservation of the black rhinoceros including the Zululand Wildlife Project, the AWF (African Wildlife Foundation), Save the Rhino and the International Rhino Foundation.

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is currently working to improve security monitoring o protect these rhinos against the threat of poaching, expanding existing protected areas and establishing new ones. The ZSL (Zoological Society of London) has been working with the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) since 1993 and provides training and technical support for many conservation activities including wildlife monitoring, anti-poaching patrols, metapopulation management and habitat assessments.

The black rhinoceros was listed under Appendix I of CITES in 1977 which prohibits all international trade of black rhino and their products. In addition, many of the remaining black rhino population are concentrated in intensive protection zones, conservancies and fenced sanctuaries, also monitoring of wild populations can provide information to guide management of rhinos and increase their population growth.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Bull
  • Female: Cow
  • Young: Calf
  • Group: Crash, Herd, Stubbornness
  • Black rhino can develop a symbiotic relationship with oxpeckers (also known as tick birds) which sit on the animal and eat ticks and blood sores. They can even warn the rhino of danger.
  • Although a herbivorous animal, black rhino have no natural predators (except man).
  • Black rhino have very thick skin (up to 1.5cm thick) which can deter potential predators.


Black Rhino [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Black Rhino, Diceros bicornis [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 November 2013]

Black Rhino Information [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]

Diceros bicornis [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Diceros bicornis – black rhinoceros [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 November 2013]

History and Threats of the Black Rhino [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Rhino Species – Rhinocerotidae [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]

Rhino Conservation in East Africa [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Rhino Population Figures [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]

Species of Rhino [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 2 November 2013]


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