Black Rhinoceros

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Diceros bicornis

  • SWAHILI NAME: Kifaru mweusi

Despite being swift-footed, fierce, and as truculent as a tank, the black rhinoceros faces a dire plight: extinction! This rhino’s name owes nothing to its actual color—a shade of gray. It’s called “black” to distinguish it from the “white,” or wide-mouthed, rhino.

Black Rhinoceros

Black Rhinoceros



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 35 to 50 years

Conservation Status

Critically endangered


1,760 to 3,080 lb (800 to 1,400 kg)


4.5 to 6.0 ft (1.4 to 1.8 m) high at shoulder

Black Rhinoceros

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Smaller and more compact than a white rhino's
Scat: Use middens and scatter dung with their hind legs; droppings contain plant fibers and wood chips.

Black Rhinoceros tracks

Trivia Question

What is a black rhino’s horn made of?


Rhino horns are made of keratin—the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails.

Social Structure

Black rhinos live more solitary lives than their white rhino cousins, though they sometimes form groups called crashes. Adult males typically live alone, meeting with females to breed. A mature, dominant male may tolerate subordinate males in his territory, but young adults or old males who can no longer defend themselves often die in fights with dominant males. Females live by themselves unless they have a calf. Occasionally, a female will allow an older offspring to rejoin her when a new calf is six to eight months old.


Rhinos have very poor eyesight, so they depend on their acute hearing and keen sense of smell to communicate, using both sound (sniffs, snorts, and grunts) and scent. Males and females mark their territories by spraying urine, which they can project as far as 12 feet (3.7 m)! They also mark territory with piles of dung and by rubbing a scent gland on their head against rocks or trees.


For such a large animal, black rhinos can run unexpectedly fast: up to 34 miles per hour (55 kph). They weave in sharp, unexpected turns and plow through shrubs like a tank. These rhinos have a reputation for being aggressive when threatened. They can be active during the day or night. They spend the heat of the day out of the sun and often wallow in mud, coating their skin with a natural bug repellent and sunblock. Black rhinos live in and defend home ranges and move within those territorial boundaries to find food, water, shelter, shade, and—sometimes—other rhinos.


Due to persistent hunting, poaching and destruction of rhinoceros habitat, only about 5,000 black rhinos survive in Africa today, making them critically endangered. Much of the poaching is driven by the demand for rhinoceros horn, which is used in traditional Asian medicine and for dagger handles in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Stringent conservation measures, including breeding, anti-poaching efforts, and increased legal protection, strive to preserve the black rhino. But poachers are ruthless in their pursuit of money. In the fall of 2013, they boldly killed a rhinoceros in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, one of Kenya’s best-guarded parks.

Range & Habitat

Less than 100 years ago, black rhinos roamed across all of sub-Saharan Africa. Today, they remain only in fragmented populations in East Africa—especially in Kenya—as well as in southern Africa.

These rhinos live in a variety of ecosystems: savanna, scrubland, forest, and wetland. As long as they can find enough plants—typically shrubs, trees, and herbs—and have convenient access to water, they can survive.


Black rhinos are browsers rather than grazers, which means that they eat foliage from trees and shrubs. Their mouths have a pointed, prehensile upper lip that allows them to grasp branches and pick off the leaves and fruit. They are especially partial to thorny acacia trees.


Mature between four and five years of age, black rhinos often won’t breed immediately. A female may wait until she is six or seven to reproduce. Social and territorial pressures force males to wait until they are between 10 and 12 years old to breed. Gestation lasts 14 to 15 months, after which one 65- to 100-pound (35- to 45-kg) calf is born in a secluded place. The calf will stay with its mother until it is about three years old. Females usually only give birth every three to five years.

Friends & Foes

Yellow- and red-billed oxpeckers live near and on rhinos, eating ticks off their hides and calling out at the approach of danger. Adults rhinos have no predators in the wild; only humans hunt rhinos. However, rhino calves occasionally fall prey to lions, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, and Nile crocodiles.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

About 5,000 black rhinos live in the wild in Africa, with another 240 in captivity. Fewer than 1,000 rhinoceroses live in Kenya. Of those, 590 are black rhinos. Sanctuaries in Laikipia, including neighbouring Ol Pejeta Conservancy, are home to about 289 of these rhinos. The remaining black rhinos live in southern Africa. The western black rhino was declared extinct in 2006. All of the rhinos featured on our field guide are from Ol Pejeta.

Black Rhinoceros

Did you know?

The easiest way to tell a black rhino from its white cousin is to look at their upper lips. A black rhino’s is pointed; a white rhino’s is squared off.