Geographical Range Africa, from Kenya to the Cape
Habitat Grasslands, savannahs and tropical bushlands
Scientific Name Diceros bicornis
Conservation Status Critically endangered

Big Impression

The black rhino is an imposing animal, weighing in at more than one ton. Its habit of charging at moving objects makes it a mammal to be avoided, especially since its eyesight isn't great.

This species has two horns. The front (anterior) horn is larger and measures up to 55 inches, while the rear (posterior) horn is smaller and measures up to 22 inches. Rhino horns are made of keratin, or densely compressed hair. Keratin is the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails.

What's in a Name?

Black rhinoceros are actually not black at all. The species probably derives its name as a distinction from the white rhino (itself a misnomer) and/or from the dark-colored local soil that often covers its skin after wallowing in mud.

Territorial Vegetarians

Living primarily in grasslands, savannahs and tropical bush lands, black rhinos are browsers with prehensile upper lips adapted for grasping and holding leaves and branches of shrubs and trees.

Black rhinos are semi-social and territorial. Adult females have overlapping ranges while males are generally solitary and may be territorial. Black rhino home ranges vary greatly depending on the habitat and to some extent on sex and age.

Black rhinos may live up to 35 years in the wild. Females reach sexual maturity between ages 4 and 7; males mature between ages 7 and 10. Gestation lasts approximately 15-16 months, with a single calf being the norm.

Critically Endangered

Millions of years ago, rhinos could be found in North America and Europe as well as in Africa and Asia. There are five surviving rhino species, three of which are critically endangered. The black rhino and white rhino are found in Africa, while the greater one-horned rhino, Sumatran rhino, and Javan rhino call Asia home.

During the last century, the black rhino has suffered the most drastic decline in total numbers of all rhino species. Between 1970 and 1992, its population dropped by 96%. By 1993, only 2,300 individuals survived in the wild.

Illegal Poaching

The black rhinoceros has been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for their horns, and to a lesser extent by loss of habitat. A major market for these horns, Arab nations use them to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers. The horn is also falsely believed to be medicine in many Asian cultures. With the growing purchasing power of many Asian countries and the existence of organized gangs of poachers, the threat to rhinos remains great.

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Help for Rhinos

In response, a group of concerned individuals and institutions founded the Black Rhino Foundation in 1989. In 1993, this foundation expanded its mission and became the International Rhino Foundation, which is dedicated to rhino conservation and research. Conservationists' intensive anti-poaching efforts had encouraging results in the 1990s and 2000s and the number of black rhinos in the wild began increasing very slowly. Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence of poaching in recent years and this activity is again posing a significant threat to wild black rhino populations. Current estimates show 4,837 individual black rhinos are now alive - all precious representatives of the glorious history of the rhino family.

Zoo Supports Conservation in the Wild

The Saint Louis Zoo's WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa was established to provide in situ and ex situ conservation support for the wildlife of the Horn of Africa. This center's work in Kenya with the Northern Rangelands Trust benefits black rhinos. In addition, each year the St. Louis Chapter of American Association of Zoo Keepers sponsors Bowling for Rhinos, a fundraising bowl-a-thon which supports the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia and Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Parks in Sumatra.

At the Saint Louis Zoo

Ruka, the first black rhinoceros to be born at the Saint Louis Zoo in 20 years was born Jan. 14, 2011, to first-time parents, mother Kati Rain and father Ajabu. The family of three live at River's Edge.

Because of their endangered status, the Zoo's black rhinos are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Black Rhino Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program to manage a genetically healthy population of black rhinos in North American zoos. Currently there are 60 black rhinos in 38 institutions. In all, eight black rhino calves have been born at the Saint Louis Zoo.