The black rhino is considered to be the most aggressive species of its family and despite its massive bulk can charge at great speed at an unwary observer. However, it rarely presses home such attacks, preferring instead to browse the low trees of its wooded habitat, or simply to doze in the cool shade.

Black Rhino facts

1. A black rhino can charge at 50 km per hour and is completely capable of killing a human being. It can even cause serious damage to a car.

2. Black rhinos can't see too well, so they sometimes charge objects like trees and rocks, mistaking them as threats. However, the black rhino has a keen sense of smell and hearing. Black rhinos use the bigger of the two horns on their noses as weapons in a fight.

3. The horns of a rhino are made of a substance similar to that of human fingernails, sometimes break off, but they are able to grow back.

4. A female black rhino was once seen wallowing with 6 turtles picking out ticks as they climbed out her body.

5. The oxpecker bird travels regularly on the rhino's back, and provides valuable services. Not only do they pick out ticks, they also screech loudly when humans approach.

6. A black rhino calf follows its mother while she clears a path through dense cover, but a young white rhino is more likely to run on ahead.

7. In several Asian cultures, people believe that a rhino horn provides powerful medicine for a variety of ailments. Other people, who live mainly in northern Africa, use rhino horns to make the handles for special daggers. Since rhino horns fetch high prices, many poachers are willing to break the law and kill these endangered animals.

Where does the black rhino live?

The black rhino lives in hilly areas on the edges of woodland. Although the male rhino – known as a bull – is a solitary beast, his home range usually overlaps with those of other bulls.

These neighbouring bulls are likely to all meet up at their shared waterhole. In fact these regular users appear to know and tolerate each other, and their collective group – known as a clan – is led by one overall, dominant bull.

These clan members challenge any unknown rhinos that visit the waterhole. Snorting loudly, the clan rhinos paw the ground and may even charge, but rarely make physical contact. The encounter usually ends with one rhino – usually the intruder - moving away.

The black rhino uses scent as a signal, spraying urine along paths and using communal dung-heaps. It scrapes with its hind feet after defecating in order to collect and carry the scent away with it.

What do rhinos eat?

The black rhino browses on trees and shrubs. Having pulled down branches from shrubs with its lips, it strips the leaves and shoots from these with a specialised upper lip which is prehensile.

The rhino also pulls up small seedling trees, and takes fruit from both trees and wind fall off the ground. It cannot easily graze, but it can tear up and eat clumps of long grasses.

Since the black rhino needs to drink at least once a day, it will stay within 5km of water. In very dry conditions, the black rhino can dig for water using its forefeet.

The rhino will approach a waterhole using regular, heavily trodden paths which are clearly visible in the surrounding undergrowth.

The black rhino feeds at dawn and dusk, spending most of the core day sleeping or in a mud wallow.

Enemies of the rhino

The black rhino has few natural predators. A lion may try and take a calf, and while a pack of spotted hyena is a more serious threat, poaching is the biggest threat to the black rhino’s existence. In fact, it is believed that poaching rhinos for their valuable horns is now responsible for a 80% reduction in rhino numbers since 1970.

Believe it or not, but rhino horn handled knives bought by young men in Yemen accounted for the death of 8000 rhinos between 1969 and 1977.

Rhino horn is also powdered for medicinal purposes by the Chinese.

Rhino breeding

In order to try and attract a female rhino – known as a cow, a bull rhino brushes his horn over the ground, charges at bushes, rushes back and forth and frequently sprays urine.

If the bull is successful, and after a gestation period of approximately 15 months, the female will retreat into dense cover in order to give birth. Although the calf can walk when barely 10 minutes old, it could easily be trampled, so the mother keeps it hidden for the next couple of weeks, defending it fiercely from predators.

The black rhino will stop growing when about 7 years old. The female can breed before this, but in the wild she bears just one calf every two to five years.

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