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White Rhinoceros

Scientific name: Ceratotherium simum


White Rhinoceros - Ceratotherium simum

White Rhinoceros - Ceratotherium simum

Photo © Adrian T Jones / Shutterstock.

The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, is a large herbivore and one of five living species of rhinoceroses. White rhinos inhabit two discontinuous zones within Africa and the populations of white rhinos in each of these zones are considered separate subspecies. The northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) inhabits areas of northwestern Uganda, southern Chad, south-western Sudan, the eastern part of Central African Republic, and north-eastern DR Congo.

The southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) occurs in largest numbers in South Africa, but is also found in smaller populations in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Botswana. Within South Africa, large populations of southern white rhinos live in Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (IUCN SSC 2008).

White rhinos feed on grasses and for that reason are classified as grazers. In this respect, their diet differs notably from their sister species, the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). Black rhinos do not feed on grasses extensively and instead eat small shrubs and woody vegetation such as acacia seedlings—for this reason they are classified as browsers (instead of grazers). Black rhinos have a prehensile lip that enables them to grasp seedlings and pull them from the ground.

White rhinos, in contrast, have square-shaped lips which enable them to tear wide clumps of grass as they graze. White rhinos have a long skull and hold their head close to the ground, they also have short legs—together these physical characteristics make them well-suited to their grazing lifestyle.

Among land mammals, the white rhinoceros is second in size only to elephants. White rhinos have two horns, a short neck and hump on the back of the neck. Despite their name, white rhino are not white but are instead brown to slate grey. White rhinos live in home ranges that differ in size depending on the resources within their bounds. They rely on access to water for drinking and bathing. To mark their territories, they spray urine, spread dung, and mangle plants with their horns.

White rhinos inhabit grassy, open plains and savanna type habiats that also have some shrubs and trees. The largest number of white rhinos occurs in South Africa. Small populations exist in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Botswana. The white rhinos in all of these locations belong to the southern white rhino subspecies. The northern white rhino subspecies is very rare and is thought to survive only in Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Perissodactyla
  • Family: Rhinocerotidae
  • Genus: Ceratotherium
  • Species: Ceratotherium simum
    The species Ceratotherium simum contains the following subgroups:
    • Subspecies: Ceratotherium simum cotini (northern white rhinoceros)
    • Subspecies: Ceratotherium simum simum (southern white rhinoceros)


Ellis E. 1999. Ceratotherium simum, Animal Diversity Web. November 19, 2008.

IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group 2008. Ceratotherium simum. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. November 19, 2008.

Parker S. ed. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 4. New York: McGraw-Hill. 648 p.

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