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 rhino is the least endangered of the living rhino species with a population of around 18,000 in the wild. However, according to the International Rhino Foundation, “white rhinos are seeing higher poaching levels than black rhinos, particularly in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, largely because they generally live in more open habitats where they are easier to target. Sadly, from 2012 to 2017, the poaching scourge led to a 15% decrease in white rhino numbers.”
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 habitat in the mild Florida climate. 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.
The social aspect is very important for raising calves that 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 thrive here. Since 1991, there have been 36 white rhinos born at White Oak, including three in 2019.