Every year World Rhino Day is observed on September 22. The day plays an important role in raising awareness to save the rhino species. Currently several rhino populations are under threat. With no natural predators, humans are the biggest threat to rhinos due to rampant poaching for their horns. Today we play our small part towards spreading awareness by sharing some interesting facts about these stunning creatures!
1. There Are 5 Rhino Species
As it stands, there are five species of rhino scattered across two continents. The black rhino and white rhino can be found in Africa whereas the Sumatran, Javan and Indian rhino inhabit the lush forests and wetlands of Asia.
Image by Biro Human | A Sumatran rhino calf born in the Way Kambas National Park, in Sumatra, Indonesia on March 28.
It’s also interesting to note that the Sumatran rhino is the smallest of the species and likely the closest living relative to the extinct woolly rhino. Calves are born with a dense covering that turns reddish-brown in young adults and becomes sparse, bristly and almost black in older rhinos.
Artistic render of extinct woolly rhino
2. Only Two Northern White Rhinos Exist Today
The northern white rhino is a subspecies of white rhino, which used to range over parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Populations of Northern White rhinos have been devastated for years by rampant poaching for their horns and human conflict. On December 20th, 2009, four of the world’s last remaining seven northern white rhinos arrived at Ol Pejeta. Najin, Fatu, Sudan and Suni had been living in Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic.
All previous breeding attempts in the zoo had been futile, and the hope was that the climate and rich grasslands of Ol Pejeta, a native habitat for the animals, would provide them with more favourable breeding conditions.
Today, only Najin and Fatu remain. The mother and daughter duo live in a 700-acre 24-hour armed secure enclosure at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The future of this subspecies now lies in the development of in vitro fertilisation techniques and stem cell technology, costly and complicated procedures. However teams like Bio Rescue continue to restore hope with news from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), reporting the international team produced five additional embryos, in a recent oocyte collection from Fatu.
3. Black Rhinos Are Browsers While White Rhinos Are Grazers
One of the most notable differences between black and white rhinos is in their feeding habits. Black rhinos are browsers with a hooked upper lip that helps them feed on leaves from bushes and trees while white rhinos prefer to graze and have a more squared upper lip.
White Rhino | Square Upper Lip
Image by Philip Perry | Black Rhino | Hooked Upper Lip
4. Birds & Rhinos: A Symbiotic Relationship
Where you see rhinos you’ll often see a number of red-beaked, black-feathered hitchhikers. Oxpeckers feed on the insects, parasites, and ticks that agitate rhinos, acting as very efficient special cleaners. (although a bit of nuisance sometimes). Beyond this, researchers have gone ahead to find out a very interesting aspect to the duo’s unique relationship. Oxpeckers also offer security, earning them the ironic name ‘askari wa kifaru’ translating to ‘the rhino’s guard’ in Swahili.
These little birds offer security to Africa’s second largest land mammal by alerting them of approaching humans. A study investigating this revealed that rhinos without oxpeckers detected an approaching human only 23 percent of the time, at an average distance of 27 meters. But when oxpeckers were present, the birds alerted the rhinos 100 percent of the time. And they detected the human 61 meters away on average. And the more oxpeckers on the scene, the greater the detection distance—which means the earlier the warning.
5. They Use Dung to Mark Their Territories
Rhinos use dung and smell to create boundaries. A bull defecates in several spots (often repeatedly- dung piles are not uncommon) and then spreads the dung with its rear feet. It leaves a unique smell of his scent that helps him remember his boundary. The smell also wards off other males from encroaching into his territory.
The dung also benefits a number of smaller members of the ecosystem, like dung beetles, who rely on the piles for food, shelter and even breeding sites.