Get Ready for Rhinos

By Kate Hofmann

They’re huge, horned, and dangerous. Even so, rhinoceroses need all the protection they can get.

Tap image for a closer view.

Who’s that charging up to check you out? It’s a white rhinoceros, and here are three good reasons to get out of the way fast:

  1. Rhinos are big. They’re the second largest land animal in the world. (Only elephants are bigger.)
  2. Rhinos are nearsighted. They often can’t tell what they’re looking at until they’re right on top of it. If in doubt, they may charge. Charging rhinos have been known to knock over cars and small trucks!
  3. Rhinos are surprisingly fast for their size. They can run at speeds of 35 miles per hour. (That’s almost as fast as a horse can run.)

The rhino figures above are ancient petroglyphs (PEH-truh-glifs) or rock carvings, in Namibia, Africa. This rock art is thousands of years old. People have been watching—and watching out for—these amazing animals for a long, long time.

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There are five rhinoceros species on Earth today. The two African species are the white rhino and the black rhino. There are also three species in Asia. The Sumatran rhino and the Javan rhino live on islands in Indonesia. The greater one-horned rhino lives in India and Nepal.

The white rhino is the biggest. (It can be as heavy as a large pickup truck!) The Sumatran rhino is the smallest and also the hairiest. It is most closely related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros that lived during the last Ice Age. The greater one-horned rhino is the best swimmer of the bunch.

But beyond their differences, there are lots of things all rhinos have in common. For example:

  • Horns. The word rhinoceros means “nose-horn.” The Javan and greater one-horned rhinos have one horn, and the others have two. Like your hair and fingernails, a rhino’s horn is made of keratin (KAIR-uh-tun). It grows throughout a rhino’s life. If it breaks off, it can grow back.
  • Keen ears and nose. A rhino’s eyesight may be poor, but its hearing and sense of smell are both excellent.
  • Long lives. Rhinos can live for up to 60 years.
  • Diet. Rhinos need to eat a lot of plants to fuel their large bodies. White rhinos can eat up to 120 pounds of grass per day! They eat both day and night—but take a rest during the hottest part of the day.
  • Mud-wallowing. When not eating, rhinos like to wallow in mud. It cools them down, protects their skin from sunburn, and keeps biting insects away.
Tap image for a closer view.

A baby rhinoceros is called a calf. At birth, a calf already weighs between 55 and 100 pounds! The calf stays with its mother for about three years, while she teaches it what to eat and keeps it safe from lions, hyenas, and other predators.

A full-grown rhino is so big and tough that it has no predators. But people are a huge danger. Many, many rhinos have been hunted by humans or have lost their habitat when people moved in.

In the early 1900s, there were more than 500,000 rhinos. But now fewer than 30,000 are left. Rhino hunting was banned in 1977, but many are still poached, or hunted illegally. That’s because some people believe rhino horns can be used as medicine. Science shows that’s not true, but sadly, people haven’t stopped killing rhinos for their horns.

The most endangered species are the Sumatran and Javan rhinos. There are fewer than 80 animals of each species left. Black rhinos are also very endangered, although their numbers are on the rise. The good news is that white rhinos have made a big comeback. Greater one-horned rhinos are also doing better.

People are working hard to stop poachers and save rhino habitat so that rhinos can charge on into the future!

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