Rhinocerotidae: Rhinoceros Family

There are 5 species of rhinoceros, found in Africa and Southeast Asia, and all have huge heads with one or two horns and a prehensile upper lip, which helps them to browse on tough plant material. The legs are short and thick, with three hoofed toes on each foot, and the skin is extremely tough, with only a few hairs. Male and female look similar. Females have smaller horns.

Indian Rhinoceros

This is the largest of three different species of rhinos living in Asia, and has a very distinctive appearance. Males develop pronounced neck folds as they mature. Apart from mothers with their calves, these rhinos live alone, though occasionally several come together at muddy wallows or good grazing areas. Rhinoceroses pluck vegetation using their prehensile lips. This particular species occurs in tall grasslands and open forests, which help to conceal its presence. Unfortunately, their dunging spots have been used by poachers to locate the species. They live in home ranges of 2-8 sq km (0.75 - 3 sq miles), which overlap with those of other rhinos. Meetings between neighbouring rhinos are often aggressive affairs. Although Indian rhinos usually flee when disturbed, they sometimes charge at humans. Females with calves are particularly dangerous, and several fatal attacks are recorded every year in India.

Both males and females have horns that can grow up to 53 cm (21 in). The skin is greatly folded, and is covered in rivet-like knobs that make it look like armour.

This species used to be common in north-western India and Pakistan until around 1600, when large areas of lush lowland grasslands were turned into farmland. As well as losing much of their prime habitat, rhinos came into conflict with farmers and sportsmen. By the early 1900s the species was close to extinction. International law now protects these rhinos, and their numbers have risen. There are now around 2,000 individuals in the wild. Indian rhinos can move surprisingly fast, at speeds of up to 56 kph (35 mph).

Distribution: The range formerly extended from Pakistan eastwards, possibly as far as China, but these rhinos are now confined to Nepal and northeastern India, in the Himalayan foothills.

Habitat: Grasslands, swamps, forests and farmland.

Weight: 1800 - 2700 kg (4000 - 6000 lb); males are bigger.

Length: 3.3 - 4.2 m (10.8 - 13.8 ft); up to 185 cm (73 in) tall at the shoulder.

Maturity: Females 5 - 6 years; males 9 years.

Gestation Period: 15 - 18 months; females give birth once every 3 years.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 18 months.

Diet: Grazes on grasses, leaves, branches and aquatic plants.

Lifespan: Up to 45 years.

Status: Endangered.


Just a single, relatively short horn is present on the head.


The hairless skin is brownish-grey. It forms a series of plates that look as if they are joined by rivets.

Legs and feet

The legs are stumpy and there are three toes on each foot.


Adult Indian rhinoceroses are unlikely to be attacked, but their calves can be vulnerable to tigers. The female will defend her calf by charging repeatedly.

A series of ridges covers the back as well as the sides of the rhinoceros’s body.

Black Rhinoceros

These rhinoceros is the smaller and more abundant of the two species of rhino found in Africa, but it is still critically endangered. These animals form clans that sometimes come together at wallowing sites, where they have mud baths..

Distribution Eastern and southern Africa from southern Chad and Sudan to northern South Africa.

Habitat: Scrubland and woody savannah.

Food: Twigs, buds and leaves. Also strips bark from woody stems.

Size: 3 - 3.75 m (9.75 - 12.25 ft); 800 - 1,400 kg (1,760 - 3,080 lb).

Maturity: Females 4 - 6 years; males 7 - 9 years.

Breeding: Single calf born every 2 - 5 years.

Life span: 30 years in the wild, but can exceed 45 years in captivity.

Status: Critically endangered.

White Rhinoceros

In spite of being protected, many white rhinoceroses have been slaughtered for their horns in recent years. This material is sought after in Oriental medicine, although it simply consists of keratin — the same material present in human hair.

Distribution: Eastern and southern Africa from Sudan to South Africa.

Food: Grass and other low-growing plants.

Size: 3.3 - 4.2 m (10.75 - 13.75 ft); 1.4 - 3.6 tonnes (3,080 - 7,920 lb).

Maturity: 6 years in females; 10 years in males.

Breeding: Single calf born every 2 years.

Lifespan: Up to 45 years.