Frequently Asked Rhinoceros Questions

That is, questions asked by humans about rhinos (not the other way around...)

How long does a rhinoceros sleep each day?

About 8 and a half hours. When you live in a hot place like Africa, sleeping during the middle of the day makes a lot of sense. And, when you're big as a rhino, you can slumber soundly. Without fear of an unexpected attack from a predator.

How big is a rhinoceros?

These are the largest land animals other than elephants. Full grown Whites are the heaviest species (weights up to 8,000 pounds), but at a height of about 6feet, Whites aren't as tall as Indian rhinos (who can grow an extra 6inches taller than Whites). Mature Black rhinos can tip in at around 5,000 (or so they tell me – I have no intention of holding the scale!).

But get this: rhinos are often twice as long as they are tall! For this, and other reasons, you wouldn't want to stand at the end of a line of rhinos.

What's with the hump?

That's a bulge of muscles to hold up the big head. In fact, the rhino's whole body is bulging with muscles. These are very powerful beings.

How do rhinos court?

She announces she's ready by the hormonal scent in her poop. But then, she doesn't want to just hang around waiting for him to notice, so she takes the scent with her. How's that? She walks about in her droppings, then walks away, leaving a perfumed trail where she goes.

What is that Crash?

What is a group, no, pod, no, gaggle, no herd of rhinoceroses? It's a crash of rhinos. (Blacks prefer a solitary lifestyle, but Whites are more social, often crashing about in small crashes.)

What is a browser?

Whites are grazers, living on open plains. The Blacks and all the Asian rhinos are browsers. A grazer eats grass. A browser eats browse, that is, leaves, twigs, stuff that can be grabbed. (Check out the windows, the menus, the cursors... No wait! Not that kind of browser!)

Who are those birds?

Tick birds and cattle egrets know a good thing when they find one. That is, they'll catch a free ride on a Black rhino's back, and chow down on the insects their host kicks up while walking.

Mean guys, aren't they?

Well, no. A rhino's eyesight is poor. To make up for their tiny, squinty eyes, their noses are huge and their ears swivel nicely—their senses of smell and hearing are acute. They are so near-sighted, that at about 15 feet, a tree human with a rifle looks pretty much like a human with a camera, or a tree, for that matter. When spooked by an unfamiliar sound or smell, a rhinoceros is likely to charge. Don't let this happen to you.

But would a hungry rhino hope to get a good square meal by attacking that human? No. Rhinos are strict vegetarians.

What's in a name? (Hint: The nose knows.)

Rhino comes from the Greek word for nose. Ceros derives from the word for horn. And thus, a horn on a nose would make a being a rhinoceros.

So, how about that horn?

Well, it's not really a horn at all. Unlike most animals' horns, which are hard outside and soft and spongy inside (think stale twinky) rhino horns are hard all the way through. They're made up of material like hair, that is packed tightly together and attached to a bony placee on the rhino's head.


Perhaps the rhinoceros might have been the inspiration for the unicorn myth. But only 2 of the five rhino species are unicorns (Indian and Javan) — the other 3 (Black, White, Sumatran) have 2 horns. Two horns per nose, that is. Unless you're a female Javan, in which case you'd have no horns at all.

And toes?

Three toes. Rhinos have 3 toes per foot. (And, like horses, to whom they are genetically related, rhinos run on their toes.)

Who are a rhino's predators?

Big cats are a threat to rhino young, but only one species is a threat to the mature rhinoceros — humans.

Habitat loss is certainly a problem for rhinos, but the rhino horn is likely a bigger problem. Powder from ground horn is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. Others prize dagger handles carved from rhinoceros horn. Poachers kill rhinos, leave the beast and take the horn, which can be twice as valuable by weight than gold. (It's to save their lives that most zoo rhinos' horns are removed—no need to kill the beast if there's no horn attached.)

Will the rhinos survive?

All rhinos are endangered—with the exception of the southern sub-species of White rhinos (the northern subspecies is not so lucky). In the final four decades of the twentieth century alone, the population of black rhinos dropped from about 200,000 to some 3,000.

And here's the good news— according to the International Rhino Foundation, recent intense anti-poaching efforts seem to be helping the Black Rhino in Africa. In the meantime, the American Zoo Association is doing its part to keep the gene pool alive (and to encourage young humans to care about wildlife).

How do you gift wrap a rhino?

If you want to gift wrap a rhino, we heartily recommend asking the San Francisco Zoo to help! Through the Adopt-an-Animal program, for a mere $50 (or more, if you'd like), you can adopt the Black Rhinos or the Great One-horned Asian Rhinos (or another animal of your choice). With the adoption, you will receive a personalized certificate of adoption, a color photo of "your" animal, a copy of the quarterly Zoo Views, and more.

As they say, "adoptions are a wild gift to help wildlife."

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Dürer's Rhino