The Black Rhino - a Threatened Species Needing Help
The ‘Diceros bicornis’ or popularly known as black rhinoceros belongs to the Kingdom - Animalia, Phylum - Chordata, Class - Mammalia, Order - Perissodactyla, Family - Rhinocerotidae. Currently there are five species of rhino which are in the list of most endangered animals. Three of these rhino species have their natural habitat in Asia and two are in Africa. However, the Indian or one-horned rhino, the Sumatran and the Javan rhino are well-protected and their numbers have been remained steady. The white rhino and the black rhino from the African continent are declining steadily, the black rhino decreasing due to poaching because of heavy demand in Chinese medicine and for use as dagger handles in the Middle East.
Features, Characteristics and Interesting Facts
The black rhinoceros is around 5-6 ft tall at the shoulder and 10-12 ft long, with a weight of 454-1362 kg. Females are smaller and have a gestation period of 15 months. Usually grey in colour, the black rhinoceros has tow horns, and occasionally a third small posterior horn is present. The anterior horn averages 50cm long and is longer than the posterior horn. They are distinct from white rhino as they have a pointed upper lip used for browsing individual twigs and shoots.The black rhino looks heavy and slow, but is very agile and fast, can take sharp turns, even when running at their top speed of more than 50 km/hr. Black rhinos eat up to 220 different species of plants, primarily leafy plants, branches and shoots. They can live without water up to 5 days. The life span of black rhino is 30 to 40 years. Black rhinos are the most aggressive of all rhino species. 7-9 years and 4-6 years is the age of sexual maturity for male rhinos and female rhinos respectively. The mating and courtship is complex and takes a long time. The male takes great caution while approaching the female, introducing himself with a series of snorts. The male swings his head from side to side with his horn sweeping the ground; then sometimes loses his nerve and runs off, fearful of an attack from the female, and returns with his characteristicstiff-legged gait to make a distinctive display.
There are four subspecies of black rhino: the south-central black rhino is the most numerous subspecies of black rhino. Second is the south-western black rhino, with a large and straight horn, found in dry climates of the savannas. Third is the east-African black rhino with longer, leaner and curved horn and more grooved skin. They prefer to live in heavily-forested and savanna habitat. The fourth one is the rarest and most endangered subspecies with only 10 surviving in 2003 and on July 8, 2006 this subspecies was declared to be extinct--known as the west-African black rhino.
The black rhino has come to symbolise the struggle to conserve African wildlife. The efforts to save black rhinos can benefit the conservation of other species. As rhinos are heavy browsers that hinder woody plants from growing, they thus allow grasses to grow, which provide food for many other animals. There are various measures being taken to help the survival of black rhinos--i.e., they are moved away from unsafe areas to safe sanctuaries, and educating and persuading people to stop using rhino horn for medicines and cultural purposes. The good news is that the population of the black rhino is increasing slightly and steadily.