Animal of the Issue: Black Rhinoceros

By Janice Tieperman

Science Editor

While you likely won’t be spotting one on campus, the black rhinoceros (more affectionately known as the “black rhino”) very much exists—for now.

According to recent reports by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the black rhino’s population remains at a level known as “critically endangered,” with only a little over 5,000 left in its ranks.

This majestic creature is well known for the two horns it bears atop its head and the dry, wrinkled texture of its skin.

Its skin, despite its name, is not actually black, but more of a supple gray.

According to National Geographic, the main difference between the black and white rhinos is in the lip shape of the creatures.

The lip shape proves to be important as it helps the black rhino pick and eat leaves, which make up a large portion of their diet.

The WWF says it best when they refer to these creatures as “virtually living fossils” and “one of the oldest groups of mammals” to exist in this day and age.

This means that the black rhino might be one of the most powerful links we have currently that connects mammals to the animals that may have roamed the earth before us.

As it roams the Earth currently, the rhino proves to have a very compact build with a weight ranging from about 1,700 pounds to a little over 3,000 pounds, and a shoulder height of 4.5 to 6 feet, according the National Geographic.

As it turns out, black rhinos don’t care much for social interaction, and only change this mindset for reproductive purposes.

National Geographic states “females reproduce only every two and half to five years,” and that a “single calf does not live on its own until it is about three years old.”

This leaves female rhinos plenty of time with their children, as their gestation periods alone range from 14 to 16 months.

Similar to the way college students wallow in stress and schoolwork, the black rhino also wallows—except in mud to refresh themselves from the hot climate, National Geographic says.

Also similar to a college student, much of the black rhino’s lifestyle revolves around being most active in the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.

So with such a peaceful lifestyle, why is the black rhino considered critically endangered?

According to the WWF, the answer lies in illegal wildlife trade, more commonly known as poaching.

“Between 1970 and 1992, 96 percent of Africa’s remaining black rhinos were killed,” says WWF.

The majority of this poaching occurred because of the desire for the black rhino’s exquisite horns.  The organization states that this desire has only increased in the past few years.

While preventing the black rhino from being hunted seems like an impossible task, the WWF has set numerous plans in motion to help these beautiful creatures begin to thrive once more.

An anonymous tip line has been created solely for reports of poaching, where callers can freely provide information they have about poaching activities without their identities being revealed.

Other efforts include using specific technology that allows the black rhino population movement to be tracked; therefore, poaching activity within these populations is tracked as well.

WWF has also made partnerships with groups such as the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, which has helped to move rhino populations to be moved to better locations where their population can grow, such as South Africa.

While a lot of progress is being made, much work still remains to be done before the black rhino can be at a healthy population once more.

For more information, visit the websites of WWF and National Geographic.

Email Janice at: jtieperman@live.esu.edu

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