Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros, or commonly know as, rhino is a large, herbivorous mammal identified by its characteristic horned snouts. The word “rhinoceros” comes from the Greek words “rhino” (nose) and “ceros” (horn). Rhinoceroses are universally recognized by their massive bodies, stumpy legs and either one or two dermal horns. In some species, the horns may be short or not obvious. They are renowned for having poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are well developed. The biggest of the five surviving species are Africa’s white rhino and Asia’s greater one-horned rhinos.

Because the animals’ horns are used in folk medicine for their supposed healing properties, rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine. The powder is often added to food or brewed in a tea in the belief that the horns are a powerful aphrodisiac, a hangover cure and treatment for fever, rheumatism, gout and other disorders, according to Live Science.

There are five species and 11 subspecies of rhino of which some have two horns, while others have one. The five species include:

Sumatran rhino
Sumatran-rhino
Javan rhino
Javan rhino
Greater one horned rhino
Greater one horned rhino
Black rhino
Black rhino
White rhino
Northern White rhino
  1. Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis): has been on earth longer than any other living mammal. With a population of less than 80, this grani is found only in Sumatra and Borneo and lives in habitats of dense highland and lowland tropical and sub-tropical forests.
  2. Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus): possibly the rarest large mammal on earth. A population of only 72 individuals found in Java (Indonesia) and lives in a habitat of Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests.
  3. Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis): semi-aquatic and often take up residence in swamps, forests and riversides. 3,588 is about the number of one-horned rhinos found in only in India and Nepal and living Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands habitats.
  4. Black rhino (Diceros bicornis): the smaller of the two African species with the population falling between 5,366 and 5,627 individuals found in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi. They live in Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands; Deserts and Xeric Shrublands.
  5. White rhino(Ceratotherium simum): also known as the Square-lipped rhino, White rhinos are ‘mowing-machines’! There are about 17,212 to 18,915 white rhinos in the world located in Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and live mostly in Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas and Shrublands habitats.

Rhinos once roamed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, and were known to early Europeans who depicted them in cave paintings. Within historical times, they were still widespread across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests.

The black rhinoceros and northern white rhinoceros both occurred naturally in Uganda at one time, but they have been poached to local extinction. Currently there are a little above 24 Rhinos in Uganda under the protective watchful of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The northern white rhino is a geographically isolated Black rhino race of the white rhino of southern Africa: formerly common in Uganda west of the Albert Nile.

Africa safari travelers can a walking safari excursion and see the White Rhinos in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, just outside Murchison Falls National Park or at Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) Zoo.

northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotheriurn sirnurn cottons)
White Rhino and Calf | @John Balcombe

White rhino

Also known as the Square-lipped rhino, is the larger of the two African species. It has a bigger head, due to the muscles that support its neck, as the animal feeds from the ground with its head lowered for much of the day.

Both black and white rhinoceroses are actually gray. They are different not in color but in lip shape. The black rhino has a pointed upper lip, while its white relative has a squared lip. The difference in lip shape is related to the animals’ diets. Black rhinos are browsers that get most of their sustenance from eating trees and bushes. They use their lips to pluck leaves and fruit from the branches. White rhinos graze on grasses, walking with their enormous heads and squared lips lowered to the ground.

The head hangs down, low to the ground; they look up only when alarmed. They 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’, solid look; an appropriate labelling for one of the oldest land mammal species in the world and live up to 50 years. It can weigh 40-50 kilos at birth and an adult male between 1,800 and 2,500 kilos and females 1,800-2,000 kilos and stand at shoulder height: 1.5 -1.8 m

There are two subspecies of White rhino: Southern (Ceratotherium simum simum): approximately between 17,212 and 18,915 individuals exist, the only specie surviving in uganda and the Northern (Ceratotherium simum cottoni): only two animals remain.

Baby White Rhino Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Baby White Rhino in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Behavior

White rhinos live on Africa’s grassy plains, where they sometimes gather in groups of as many as a dozen individuals. Under the hot African sun, a white rhino will take cover by lying in the shade. Rhinos are also wallowers, they will find a suitable water hole and roll in its mud, coating their skin with a natural bug repellent and sunblock that gives them the skin color.

They have sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell that they use to find one another by following the trail of scent each enormous animal leaves behind trading the landscape.

relaxing white rhino

Breeding

The mating system in white rhinoceroses is polygynandrous, meaning both males and females have multiple sexual partners. Male white rhinoceroses are vigilant for females who enter into their territory. Once the female enters the territory, the male remains with the female for a day to investigate whether the female is ready to mate. If the female is ready, then the male usually follows her for 3 to 5 more days, during which time the females responds with snorts and roars. Before mating, pair bonds last for 5 to 20 days; in this period if females attempt to enter another male’s territory, males block the way, and sometimes confrontation occurs between males and females. However, if females successfully enter into another male’s territory, then the previous male will discontinue his effort to follow the female.

Males detect whether females are ready to mate by the smell of urine; urine includes chemicals that signals females in estrus. Females usually experience their first estrus at the age of three and half years, but they don’t breed until age 5. Almost all females breed after 5 years of age. Some of the signs of mating behaviors sent by female rhinoceroses are frequent urination and whistling sounds.

Among males of the same population, fecal testosterone levels in territorial males are higher than the non-territorial males. Furthermore, territorial males usually spend more time with females and generally have more mating partners than non-territorial males. Thus, territorial males have higher reproductive success than non-territorial males.

While mating, male white rhinoceroses place both of their feet on the back of the female. Copulation lasts for 15 to 30 minutes on average, with ejaculations every 4 to 5 minutes. Mating behavior continues for 2 to 5 days as testosterone levels of male are high for 2 to 5 days. After that, the female leaves the male’s territory.

White rhinoceroses breed throughout the year, but breeding usually peaks between October to December in southern African populations and February to June in eastern African populations.

White rhinoceroses give birth to one offspring at a time, which weighs, on average, 48.5 kilograms at birth, and doubles its size by 6 months. Females reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 to 5 years, whereas males reach sexual maturity at the age of 5 to 7 years. Female white rhinoceroses can reproduce from age 5 up to the age of 46 years. The breeding interval in white rhinoceroses is long, 2.5 to 3 years. This long breeding interval is tied to a long gestational period of 530 to 550 days. Calves usually start weaning at one year, and leave their mothers once they reach 2 to 2.5 years of age.

White rhinoceros calves start suckling mother’s milk only hours after birth, and they usually suckle for 2 to 3 minutes at a time. Mothers are the sole caregivers of the young and males have no parental investment on calves beyond the mating process. White rhinoceroses start grazing at 2 months, but they are dependent on their mothers for nutrition until 6 months after birth. Beyond age 6 months, mother still nurse the child and protect them from predators and external threats, such as wildfire.

Furthermore, calves usually move in front of their mother in the early stage of their life, and they respond immediately when their mothers change direction. Calves usually follow their mothers continuously for 2 months. White rhinoceros stay with their mother for 2.5 to 3 years. At that time, the mothers drive their calves out of their territories and become sexually receptive again.

white rhino communication

Communication and Perception

White rhinoceroses communicate using several different noises. Typically, male white rhinoceroses are louder than females. In addition, during fights with other bulls, males make grunts and snorts. Females utter a loud bass bellow while fighting with other females or in confrontation with males. Panting, whining, and squeaking are the sounds made by calves if they do not see their mother. White rhinoceroses often make gruff squeaking sounds when chasing or being chased, and their defensive sound is snarling. Male rhinoceroses make hic-throbbing sounds when approaching females.

White rhinoceroses are nearsighted, but they have heightened senses of hearing and smell. Therefore, olfactory communications play an major role in securing their territories. In white rhinoceros populations, dominant males spray their urine to mark the boundaries of their territories. Furthermore, white rhinoceroses have communal dung heaps, which makes it easier for rhinoceroses to identify each other in an area. Communal dung heaps also play a role in mating, because males can determine if a female is prepared to mate based on the smell of the dung.

White Rhinoceros

Food Habits

White rhinoceroses are strictly herbivores. Their general diets include thick bush covers and short grasses. Some of the species of grasses they consume are panic grass (Panicum), signal grass (Urochloa), and finger grass (Digitaria), which are commonly found in shady areas of grasslands. Their squared-shaped lips allow them to consume vast amounts of grasses, which is why they are often cited as the largest pure grazer in the world. White rhinoceroses also eat fruits, as well as the leaves, stems, seeds, nuts, and flowers of the trees. White rhinoceros newborn calves drink only mother’s milk for two to three week after birth. After two weeks, mothers teach their newborns to eat soft and juicy grasses and other vegetation. White rhinoceroses drink their mother’ milk up to 18 months post-natally, start eating regular diets, like their mothers, after four to five months.

White Rhinoceros uganda

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Other than UWEC Zoo in Entebbe (near the international airport), Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the only other place you’ll be able to see the White Rhinoceros. You can take a drive or a guided walking excursion in the Sanctuary perimeter and the place is on route to Murchison Falls NP.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Rhino Fund Uganda, a Ugandan NGO committed to the restoration of Uganda’s rhinoceros population and Ziwa Ranchers Limited, a private land management company. The sanctuary offers a secure place where rhino populations can be expanded by breeding, protected from human and non-human predators and gradually re-introduced into Uganda’s national parks, while at the same time, allowing the public to enjoy these majestic animals, as the project moves forward.

A team of approximately 78 park rangers and security guards keep a 24-hour watch on the rhinos to ensure their safety. The 70 square kilometres (7,000 ha) sanctuary is surrounded by a 2 metres (6.6 ft) electric fence to keep the rhinos in and the intruders out. The sanctuary is home to at least 40 mammal and reptilian species including monkeys, antelopes, hippopotamuses, crocodiles and numerous bird species.

Tourist facilities at the sanctuary include a safari lodge, guest house, budget accommodation, and camp grounds. The accommodations are two separate businesses and both have restaurants that offer meals to tourists. In addition to on foot rhino trekking, tourist activities include birding, canoe rides and nature walks.

References

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