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Tragic: Since 1970 over 90 percent of the world's rhinoceros have vanished

Species: Indian, Javan, Sumatran, Black, White

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, poses with 5-year-old black rhino called Zawadi and BBC's Kate Silverton as he visits Port Lympne Wild Animal Park on June 6, 2012, in Port Lympne, England.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, poses with 5-year-old black rhino called Zawadi and BBC's Kate Silverton as he visits Port Lympne Wild Animal Park on June 6, 2012, in Port Lympne, England. Chris Jackson, Getty

There are five species of Rhino. Three of them are native to Southern Asia (the Indian, Javan, and Sumatran); and two are native to Africa (the Black and White). Their habitat ranges from arid and semi-arid savannas to dense forests in tropical and subtropical regions.

The distinguishing characteristic between the African Black and White species has more to do with the shapes of their mouths than with color. White rhinoceros (also called square-lipped rhinoceros) have broad flat lips for ground grazing. Black rhinos have long pointed lips for reaching the foliage of trees and bushes. Both species are further divided into subspecies.

Four subspecies of Black Rhino:

  1. South-central once ranged from central Tanzania south through Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to northern and eastern South Africa. Today it roams through South Africa and decreasingly through Zimbabwe with some still remaining in Swaziland and southern Tanzania.
  2. South-western found in Namibia, southern Angola, western Botswana, and western South Africa.
  3. East African found mostly in Tanzania, nearly extinct.
  4. West African, officially extinct as of November 2011.

Two subspecies of White Rhino:

  1. Southern White rhinoceros, most abundant rhino subspecies in the world
  2. Northern White rhinoceros, nearly extinct with a mere seven confirmed individuals left.

The Black, White, and Sumatran rhinoceros have two horns, while the Indian and Javan rhinoceros have but one horn. Among the five species, a rhino can weigh from 750 to 8,000 pounds and stand anywhere from four and a half feet to six feet in height. After the elephants, the white rhinoceros are the second-biggest living land mammals.

The Sumatran is the smallest rhinoceros in existence. It has thick fur to help it survive high altitudes, and the fur can attract a coat of mud which prevents insect bites and thorns. Fewer than 200 Sumatran rhino survive today with Indonesia and Malaysia the main countries where they can be found.

Fast facts

Rhinos do not eat meat but instead concentrate on finding vegetation. They tend to be solitary, living to about 35 years old though some in captivity have been known to live a few years longer. A group of rhinoceros is called a 'crash.'

They have a keen ability to smell and hear, but they cannot see well. Sometimes they will sense a threat and start charging ferociously toward a tree or a rock.

The female rhino is very heedful to protect her baby from predators such as lions, tigers, crocodiles, and hyenas. The babies stay with their mothers about two years. By then they are almost adult size and ready to fend for themselves, and the mother will usually have a new baby to care for.

Thick skin, a body of armor, and a deadly horn keep most animals from tangling with a full-grown rhinocerous. Their greatest enemy continues to be mankind with greed being the main reason several species are on the endangered list. The Indian Rhino is listed as 'endangered,' while the Sumatran, Javan, and Black Rhino are 'critically endangered.'

The rhino horn is made simply of keratin, but some Asian cultures continue to value that rhino horn dust is magical as a versatile medicine. Northern Africa peoples use rhino horns to make ornamental handles for daggers. The rhino is now a protected species, but many poachers will illegally kill them as their horns command a very high price on the black market.

Conservation projects are the greatest hope for survival of the rhinoceros.

Save the Rhino International (SRI): SRI is an organization which works to conserve the rhinos in Africa and Asia. UK based, British writer, humorist, and conservationist Douglas Adams ("The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy") is one of their founder patrons. For information on contacting SRI, click here.

For information on becoming a member, click here.

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Volunteer guide: "Rhinoceros populations are under siege. More than 90 percent of the world's rhinos have disappeared since 1970; hundreds of rhinoceros species are now down to just five. Rhinoceros conservation projects are struggling to keep extinction at bay, and your effort could be what it takes to help them succeed."

Rhinoceros horn functional keratin, alternative

International Rhino Foundation: "No more than an estimated 44 Javan rhinos remain on the planet, and surveys and other data suggest that only 4-5 females are still breeding. Evidence suggests that the species has recently been extirpated in Vietnam, where what may have been the last individual was poached in May 2010."