Southern White Rhino

Rhinoceros / Big 5 Wildlife

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla (Odd-toed Ungulates)

Family: Rhinocerotidae (Rhinoceroses)

Genus and Species: Ceratotherium simum simum


The Southern White Rhinoceros, also known as the Square-Lipped Rhino, may be named from the Afrikaans (Dutch Settlers) word for “wide” (wid), referring to their broad mouths and wide lips and not the colour of their skin.


Southern White Rhinos are easily recognisable by their large size and impressive hump on the back of their neck. Their wide square upper lip is an adaptation for their grazing diet. The largest of the two remaining African rhino subspecies (white rhinoceros and black rhinoceros), the southern white rhino is also the most common and widespread subspecies of rhinoceros in the world.

Despite their name, they are actually grey in colour, and the name “white” is believed to have come from the Afrikaans (Dutch) word for “wide,” referring to their broad mouths and wide lips. Although bigger in size, they have shorter legs and a longer snout than their Northern White Rhino counterparts.


The largest African rhino species alive today, Southern White Rhinos are truly enormous land animals.

  • Shoulder Height:
    • Male: 1.5 – 1.8 meters (4.9 – 5.9 feet)
    • Female: 1.4 – 1.6 meters (4.6 – 5.2 feet)
  • Body Length:
    • Male: 3.3 – 4.2 meters (10.8 – 13.8 feet)
  • Weight:
    • Male: 2,000 – 2,300 kilograms (4,400 – 5,070 pounds)
    • Female: 1,600 – 1,700 kilograms (3,530 – 3,750 pounds)./

Rhino horns are made of keratin, similar to our hair and nails. Their horns are used for defence against predators and for dominance against competing males.


Southern White Rhinos are herbivores, spending most of their day grazing on grasses and fresh new shoots. Their wide, square upper lip and strong neck muscles allow them to efficiently consume large amounts of vegetation, earning them the reputation as Africa’s “machine-grazers”. 

Location and Habitat

Native to Southern Africa, nearly 99% of Southern White Rhinos live in the savannas of Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, with the vast majority found in South Africa. White rhinos prefer areas with tall grasses and some scattered trees or shrubs, allowing for the best grazing opportunities while still being able to keep a look out for predators and potential threats.


Southern White Rhinoceroses are semi-social animals. Females tend to live in loose herds of up to a dozen individuals, while males are more solitary. 

Did you know that rhinos have surprisingly poor eyesight? They rely heavily on their other senses to navigate the world. In fact, their hearing and scent capabilities are excellent! Their large ears can swivel to pick up on distant sounds, and their powerful sense of smell helps them find food, detect predators, and even recognise other rhinos.

With a preference for new grass shoots and morning dew, white rhinos are most active during the cooler mornings and early evenings, spending the heat of the day resting in mud wallows or finding shelter under the shade of trees. Mud wallowing also helps to cool them down and is thought to help protect their skin from parasites. 

Challenges and Threats

Southern white rhinos have one of the most successful conservation stories, with numbers rebounding from near extinction due to poaching. Led by dedicated game rangers in South Africa and Kwa-Zulu Natal,white Rhinoceros populations in Southern Africa rebounded thanks to significant conservation efforts and innovative breeding programmes which oversaw their successful return to sustainable numbers during the 1960’s and 1970’s. 

However, they are still classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, with their populations drastically declining each year due to increased threat from poachers and the illegal trade of rhino horn. It is strongly believed that the drastic decline of rhino populations in Asia, and following the recent extinction of the Northern White Rhino, that poachers have begun targeting Southern Rhinos with increased focus. In the last decade, over 9 415 South African rhinos have been lost to poaching. 

What are rhino horns made of?

Both male and female rhinos have horn made up of closely-packed keratin fibres, similar to what our hair and nails are made of. These horns are used for defence against predators, marking territory, and for dominance against competing males.


Southern White Rhinoceroses don’t have well-defined territories. Herds may range over large areas, and their movements are determined by food and water availability. However, due to threats from poaching and human settlements, rhinos are contained within the borders of national parks, private game reserves, and independent game farms.

Male rhinos are solitary creatures, with their main purpose being to defend their territories and to mate with females. The territories of mature males vary from just over 3 square kilometres (1 square mile) in areas with dense vegetation to about 60 square kilometres (35 square miles) in open savannas and grasslands. 

A rhino’s territory is marked by gauges in trees and stumps (made from rubbing their horns against), scent markings and, most conspicuously, by creating large dung piles called “middens”. These middens may be a couple of metres in size. Hard to miss, they are approached and sniffed by most passing rhinos, but only the dominant male will defecate and scatter his latest addition to the pile with his hind feet. 

Horn rubbing in the pile is also common. A white rhino territory may have 20 to 30 middens located around its boundaries. Scientists think that middens might act as a localised “mailbox” or “guest book”, allowing all the rhinos in an area to keep track of who is in the neighbourhood, as well as alert males of the reproductive state of any passing females.


Southern White Rhinoceroses can breed year-round. Gestation lasts about 16 months, and a single calf is born. Calves stay with their mothers for several years, offering them the best chance at survival and protection from predators.

Facts about Southern White Rhinos

According to Saving Private Rhino, there are an estimated 15 940 southern white rhinos left in the wild. With more than half of South Africa’s rhino population, approximately 8000 rhinos, living in privately owned reserves and independent game farms.

Rhinos are surprisingly vocal creatures! They have a whole repertoire of sounds they use to communicate with each other. Here’s a breakdown of their vocalisations:

  • Grunting and snorting: This is a common sound rhinos make, used for various purposes. It can show annoyance, agitation, or even be a greeting between rhinos.
  • Bellowing: This loud, deep sound is a sign of aggression. Rhinos use it to warn others away from their territory or during fights.
  • Mooing: Believe it or not, rhinos can make a sound similar to a cow’s moo! Mothers use this gentle sound to communicate with their calves.
  • Whistling: This high-pitched sound might surprise you. Rhinos use it when they’re feeling anxious or nervous.

Sadly, rhino horn is priced only on for its black market value, particularly in Asia and North Africa. This value is completely false. Rhino horn is made from keratin, the same natural material as your fingernails and hair, and has no medicinal benefits or special properties.

Over short distances and at a sprint, rhinos can run up to 50 kilometres per hour (35 mph).

Rhinos are generally considered crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active during the dawn and dusk hours. Some studies have even suggested that grasses may be more nutritious and easier to digest in the mornings due to dew collection.

It’s important to remember that white rhinos are powerhouse-grazers. So, various factors like the time of year (season), avoiding predators, droughts, and even access to water sources, will influence the time of day rhinos are most active at. 

Baby rhinos are called calves / singular: calf.