Scientific Name: Ceratotherium simum simum
IUCN Status: Near Threatened
Quick Fact: the white rhino is the largest rhino species, and the third largest land animal behind the two species of elephants
Learn More: visit the International Rhino Foundation
A rhino is often the color of the mud he or she wallowed in that day, so the name “white rhinoceros” is a bit of a misnomer. On a rare day when he or she is completely clean and dry, the white rhino is a light grey color. The origin for the name is thought to be the South African Boer word “widt” meaning “wide” and referring to the size and shape of the grass eating head and (wide) mouth of the white rhino. This is a distinct feature when compared to the black rhino, which has a hooked lip and browses trees and branches, and also lives in southern Africa.
The white rhinos at the White Oak make a considerably positive impression with both our guests and staff. The herd thrives on the abundant grass in their spacious enclosure in the mild Florida climate and we have had over twenty white rhino calves born here. The matriarch females rule the roost as they move around their enclosure and graze, sun, and wallow in their mud bath. They also perform their daily ritual deposits in a communal dung pile called a midden, which serves as a “signpost” to all other rhinos in the vicinity.
Breeding white rhinos in captivity is particularly challenging as they are social animals requiring open space for the groups of rhinos to thrive. The social aspect is very important for raising calves which live with their family for 3-4 years before joining another herd to begin reproducing on their own. The white rhino environment at White Oak has been conducive to these requirements and multiple generations of rhinos have been produced, including 30 births thus far.
Update: In September of 2014, White Oak received six young white rhinos (two males and four females) from South Africa. These youngsters (above) will be incorporated into the herds already living at White Oak.
The rhinos traveled to White Oak from private conservancies in South Africa where poaching threatened their safety. Every eight hours a rhino is killed for its horn, which is made of keratin – the same substance as human fingernails. The horns are in high demand in Asia, specially Vietnam and China, where they are used in traditional medicine and as a status symbol. Increased demand for the horn has led to involvement of international crime syndicates that use high-powered rifles, night vision and helicopters to locate and poach the rhinos. As a result, authorities are struggling to provide adequate security for rhinos.
The new rhinos at White Oak are now safe from the threat of poaching and are a part of a large expansion of our rhino conservation facilities.