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Rhinoceros in South Africa
Rhinoceros in South Africa

A rhinoceros, commonly abbreviated to rhino, is a member of any of the five extant species (or numerous extinct species) of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. (It can also refer to a member of any of the extinct species of the superfamily Rhinocerotoidea.) Two of the extant species are native to Africa, and three to South and Southeast Asia.

Rhinoceroses are some of the largest remaining megafauna: all weigh at least one tonne in adulthood. They have a herbivorous diet, small brains 400–600 g (14–21 oz) for mammals of their size, one or two horns, and a thick 1.5–5 cm (0.59–1.97 in), protective skin formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure. They generally eat leafy material, although their ability to ferment food in their hindgut allows them to subsist on more fibrous plant matter when necessary. Unlike other perissodactyls, the two African species of rhinoceros lack teeth at the front of their mouths; they rely instead on their lips to pluck food.

Species of rhinoceros

The family Rhinocerotidae consists of five extant species, all of which belong to the same genus, Rhinoceros. These species are:

  1. Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) also known as the greater one-horned rhinoceros or the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, is a large herbivorous mammal native to the Indian subcontinent.
  2. Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) also known as the lesser one-horned rhinoceros or Sunda rhinoceros, is one of the most critically endangered large mammals in the world.
  3. Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) also known as the hairy rhinoceros or Asian two-horned rhinoceros, is a critically endangered species of rhinoceros.
  4. Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros, is one of the species of rhinoceros native to Africa.
  5. White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, is one of the two species of rhinoceros native to Africa.

Threats to the rhinoceros

  • Poaching: Poaching is one of the most significant threats to rhinos. The demand for rhino horn in some Asian countries drives illegal hunting. The horns are erroneously believed to possess medicinal properties and are used in traditional Asian medicine, despite there being no scientific evidence to support these claims. The high value of rhino horns on the black market fuels poaching activities.
  • Habitat Loss: Habitat loss is a significant threat to rhinos. Expanding human populations, agricultural development, and infrastructure projects result in the destruction and fragmentation of their natural habitats. As their habitats shrink, rhinos face increased competition for resources and reduced areas for breeding and movement.
  • Human-Wildlife Conflict: As rhino habitats shrink and their natural food sources become scarce, they may encroach upon agricultural areas, leading to conflicts with local communities. Rhinos may damage crops, resulting in retaliatory killings or habitat destruction to protect livelihoods.
  • Climate Change: Climate change poses a threat to rhinos and their habitats. Rising temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events can negatively impact the availability of food and water resources, affecting rhino populations.
  • Inadequate Law Enforcement: Weak law enforcement, corruption, and inadequate penalties for wildlife crimes contribute to the persistence of rhino poaching. Insufficient resources and lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies hamper efforts to combat poaching effectively.

See also