Southern White Rhinoceros
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
Wild 30 years
Captivity 40 - 50 years
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, and poaching is back on the rise since 2007.
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 three northern white rhinos left in the world – including in the wild and in captivity.
Its 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 savannah. They spend about half of the daylight hours feeding and require large individual areas.
The northern and southern subspecies, which appear similar, have been genetically separated for two million years. 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.
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.
Dominant males maintain strict, non-overlapping ranges that are defended against other males and clearly marked by urine spray and dung scattering along the perimeter.
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 walk in front of their mothers.
AZA institutions that participate in the White Rhino SSP currently manage fewer than 200 captive individuals of the southern subspecies. Reproduction in this subspecies, a major priority of the program, 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.
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