Southern White Rhinoceros


Scientific Name

Ceratotherium simum simum

Species Survival Plan



Grassland or savannah





Originally Native To

Southern and eastern Africa


60 - 72 inches at shoulder


4,000 - 7,000 lb.


Second-largest land mammal; wide mouth; two horns; neck hump

Gestation Period

16 months


1 calf

Birth Season

Any month


Wild 30 years
Captivity 40 - 50 years

Social Behavior

Males are territorial and solitary; females are not territorial and prefer the company of another female or calf


About Southern White Rhinoceros

Poaching remains the greatest threat to the white rhinoceros. Its horn is used in Asia for traditional medicines and, more recently, as a status symbol for the wealthy. Rhino poaching is part of the global black market in illegal wildlife trade, one of the biggest black markets today.

White rhino populations have been reduced by 95 percent since 1979 due to regional civil unrest and occupation of national parks by rebel forces. Habitat destruction and recent droughts have also diminished numbers. Since 2006, rhino poaching peaked in 2014-15 but is still a greater problem than it was prior to 2013.

Of those that survive in the wild, almost all are southern white rhinos – 96 percent of which reside in South Africa. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is home to the southern white rhino. There are currently only two northern white rhinos (both females) left in the world – including in the wild and in captivity. The northern and southern subspecies, which appear similar, have been genetically separated for two million years.

The white rhino's common name, unrelated to its color (it is actually gray), is derived from the Afrikaans word describing its mouth: “weit,” or wide. Its broad, square lips and expansive muzzle, as well as its size, distinguish it from the smaller, prehensile-lipped black rhinoceros.

With their wide mouths, white rhinos are adapted for grazing short turf grasses on the savanna. They spend about half of the daylight hours feeding and require large individual areas.

Their head hangs down low to the ground; they look up only when alarmed. White rhinos have two horns on the end of their nose. The front horn is usually much larger than the inner horn. Rhinos are known for their distinct "prehistoric" look; an appropriate labeling for one of the oldest land mammal species in the world.

The white rhino has poor eyesight, but keen hearing and smell, and two keratin horns – the larger of which may grow 54 inches long. They are very aggressive when threatened and can charge at speeds of 35 mph.

White rhinos love mud. They will roll around in it, cover themselves with it, and cover their young with it. The wet mud cools them and protects their skin from sun and insects.

White rhinos are semi-social and territorial. They stay together in herds on the grassy plains and mark their territory by urine spray and dung scattering along the perimeter.

Females reach sexual maturity at 6-7 years old, while males mature at 10-12 years old. White rhinos can communicate vocally using a wide range of sounds from calf squeaking to snarling or the wailing of adults.

Dominant males maintain strict, non-overlapping ranges with their horns and massive sizes. Males tend to be more solitary than females, and live on about one square mile of land, whereas females can range over an area almost seven times as large.

Cows and adolescents are rarely solitary. Small herds can consist of a cow and calf, other juvenile calves, or cows without calves and juvenile substitutes.

Females may wander freely through these territories without threatening the males. However, during courtship, females are often aggressive and defensive, especially when trying to protect a young calf.

White rhino calves weigh about 100 pounds at birth. They begin to eat grass within a few weeks but nurse until they are 18 months old.

The mother and calf bond is very close and a calf will remain with the mother until the next calf is born, usually in 2-3 years. In contrast to the black rhino, white rhino calves will walk in front of their mothers.

Reproduction in this southern subspecies, a major priority of the White Rhino Species Survival Plan, has been very difficult with only a few successful facilities, particularly those able to maintain larger social groups. Reproductive research using ultrasonography was pioneered at Fossil Rim.

At Fossil Rim, the White Rhino Yard is located along the Gosdin Scenic Drive. As guests come to the end of their 7.2-mile journey, they will pass by the yard.


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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.