Scientific Name: Diceros bicornis minor
IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
Quick Fact: Another sub-species of black rhino , the western black rhino, was declared extinct in 2011
Learn More: visit the International Rhino Foundation
Black rhinoceros were once found over an enormous range throughout sub Saharan Africa living in deserts, mountains, grasslands and forests. Written accounts by explorers before the turn of the 20th century relate frequent encounters with plentiful numbers of black rhinos. The black rhino is a browser and eats twigs, branches, and leaves and utilizes a specially adapted “hook lip” to strip them from the trees and shrubs from which it feeds. The black rhino are often loners, as they move between water sources and feeding areas, leaving dung piles and spraying their urine as “signposts” for other rhinos.
The incredible stature of the rhino, and its magnificent horns, has led to the demise of the species. The rhino’s horn is composed of keratin, the same fibers that make up hair and fingernails, which they use to defend their territories from other rhinos and as protection from predators. Asian cultures revere rhino horn, used in traditional medicine for the treatment of ailments. Rhino horn is also used in Yemen to make handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. Rhinos in both Asia and Africa have been persecuted almost to extinction as they are killed for the rhino horn trade.
In the late 1980’s White Oak became involved with the Black Rhino Foundation, a group of cooperative zoos working in Zimbabwe to help save their imperiled black rhinos. As part of the agreement, black rhinos from Zimbabwe were brought to White Oak in 1993 to start a captive breeding program for the species in the event the wild population was lost. In the following years White Oak has worked intensely to build a facility and a successful breeding program for the species, and to implement research programs to learn about the biology of the species and the captive management science. White Oak’s first black rhino calf was reintroduced to southern Africa where he was placed in a breeding program and successfully produced offspring.
To address the continuing global rhino crisis, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) was formed from the original Black Rhino Foundation, to develop conservation projects for the five remaining species of rhinos in Africa and Asia. While the black rhino is by no means secure, the wild population is again increasing and we are encouraged that our efforts to protect this magnificent species have begun to see positive results.