What animal has three toes, loves mud, and has a name that means “nose horn” in Greek? 

If you guessed the rhinoceros – or rhino for short – you would be correct!

Despite looking like prehistoric creatures, rhinos are mammals that follow a diet of herbivores, snacking on fruits, grasses, twigs, and leaves. This grassy diet is nothing to laugh at – certain species of rhino can weigh up to 3,500 kilograms (over 7,700 pounds)! Aside from their impressive size, one of the most prominent features of rhinos is their horns. Rhinos can have one or two horns made of keratin, just like our fingernails and hair! These horns are very important for rhinos, as they are used to defend themselves from predators and forage. 

There are five species of rhino, with white and black rhinos found in Africa and Indian, Javan, and Sumatran rhinos located across southern Asia. White rhinos are concentrated in South Africa but have also been introduced to surrounding countries. About 98% of the black rhino population lives in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Unfortunately, several species of rhinos have been designated as critically endangered by the World Wildlife Foundation, including the black rhino, due to poaching and habitat loss. Efforts to support these endangered animals appear to be working, as the numbers of black rhinos have increased by several hundred from 2012 to 2018. In 2019, Tanzania flew nine black rhinos to Serengeti National Park to increase the rhino population. 

Traveling to East Africa means that you will potentially see a black or white rhino – but how do you tell the difference between them? Their names do not offer much help, as both species are actually gray! The most apparent difference between the two species is the shape of their upper lip. Black rhinos have a pointed upper lip that is useful for browsing for food, whereas white rhinos have a square-shaped lip useful in grazing. Black rhinos will also tend to hold their head higher, while white rhinos will keep their heads closer to the ground to help them graze for food.

The delicate conservation status of rhinos makes spotting them on an African safari all the more special and impactful. If you are so lucky to see these magnificent animals while on your trip, be sure to use proper wildlife etiquette, keep your distance, and marvel at their sheer size and presence!