26th May 2024

Are white rhinoceros really white?

White Rhinoceros

Square-lipped rhinoceros

Africa is home to two species of rhinoceros  – the hook-lipped or black rhinoceros and square-lipped or white rhinoceros.

The white rhino is the largest existing species of rhinoceros and the second largest animal after the elephant. An adult male rhino can weigh as much as 3.6 tonnes. Female rhinos are comparatively less heavier, but can still weigh up to 1.7 tonnes. Herbivores by diet, the white rhino can live without water for four to five days at a stretch. Both black and white rhinoceros are almost of the same colour – grey. However, the latter is called so for two probable reasons:

One, the white rhino is square-lipped, which helps it graze easily. The English word ‘white’ in its name got wrongly translated from the Dutch word wijde, which literally means ‘wide’, referring to the width of its mouth. The popularization of this wrong translation gradually became its name.

Two, like all species of rhinoceros, the white one spends a good amount of time wallowing in the mud. It does so to keep itself cool. The chalky colour of the dried-up mud makes it appear white. Hence the name. Besides, the lighter colour of its horns is also considered a reason behind the name.

The white rhinoceros are further classified into two subspecies – the northern white rhinoceros and the southern white rhinoceros – both of which are listed as nearly threatened (NT) on the ‘Red List of Threatened Species’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

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