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White Rhino facts - all about the white rhino


Ever wanted to know more about the iconic White Rhino – of which there are two subspecies; the Southern White Rhino and the Northern White Rhino, the largest and most sociable of all the rhino species? This White Rhino fact sheet should have all the answers


The name White Rhino doesn’t appear to accurately describe this animal as, far from being white, its colour ranges from slate grey to yellow-brown. In fact the name is a corruption of the Afrikaans name ‘weit’, meaning wide and was used in the context of describing the long mouth of the herbivore, which is also sometimes called the Square-lipped Rhinoceros.

 As the rhino has no incisor teeth, it relies on its squared lips to tear up mouthfuls of grass. Rhinos only have flat molars at the sides, which they use to chew the grasses they graze upon in the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas and shrublands that they inhabit.


Although rhinos have thick, protective skin, it is still susceptible to sunburn, so they often choose to rest in shady areas during the hotter times of the day. Rolling in mud also helps them to avoid the harsh rays of the sun, cooling them off and providing a natural sunscreen.


The rhino’s most defining feature, which is also its downfall, is its iconic horn. The horn remains in high demand in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam where it is used in traditional medicines. The poaching of rhinoceros for their horn, although being tackled, remains a serious issue and the leading cause of their decline.

 Unlike other animals, rhino horn is made from solid keratin, whereas cattle horns are made from keratin with a bony core, and deer antlers are made from solid bone.

 Female rhinos use their horns to protect their young, while males use it to stand up to rival males and to fend off predators. It grows up to around three inches each year, and has been recorded growing up to five feet. To support this heavy weight, their broad nasal bones take the force of the horn when fighting. In fact, White Rhinos have the largest set of nostrils of any land animal, and their sense of smell is excellent.

Nuchal ligament

The hump on the back of the White Rhino is a distinctive feature that you won’t see in the Black Rhino. This odd-looking growth is the nuchal ligament, and is vital in supporting the weight of the animal’s massive head, particularly when it gallops. When running (rhinos can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour), the rhino holds its head up, which requires very strong muscle power, which is aided by the nuchal ligament. The hump caused by this ligament gets larger as the rhino ages. 

Where to see White Rhino in the world?

Southern White Rhinos are found in the southern African countries of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda. There are currently around 20,400 Southern White Rhinos in the wild.

 Sadly, it is quite a different story for the Northern White Rhino, whose worldwide population numbers just six known individuals, and it is suspected that this species is extinct in the wild. Today, Northern White Rhinos can be found at Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, at San Diego Zoo in California, and at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.