What's the Difference Between Black Rhinos and White Rhinos?

Eastern white rhinoceros compared to a black rhinoceros. Nagel Photography/Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock

The interesting thing about the black rhino (above left ) and the white rhino (right) is that their names have nothing to do with the color of their skin. Technically, they're both steely gray.

The most noteworthy difference between the two species is their upper lip. The black rhino has a hooked lip while the white rhino has a square lip. Because black rhinos browse instead of graze, the hooked lip helps them munch on leaves from trees and bushes. In addition, white rhinos have a longer skull, a less defined forehead and a more obvious shoulder hump.

More About Black Rhinos

Almost all black rhinos are found in four African counties — South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. WWF reports that black rhino numbers decreased by 98 percent between 1960 and 1995 to less than 2,500. But the species has made a dramatic comeback, increasing their numbers to between 5,042 and 5,455 today. However, the black rhino is still considered critically endangered.

There are two common theories about the black rhino's name. One is that the upper lip's "beak" formation was translated to "black." The other is that it was simply called black to distinguish it from the white rhino.

More About White Rhinos

White rhinos live primarily in South Africa with some smaller populations in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. There are two subspecies of white rhino, the southern white rhino and northern white rhino. The southern white rhino is considered an overwhelming conservation success story. In the early 1900s, there were between 50 and 100 of the animals left in the wild. Today, Save the Rhino reports that the subspecies has increased to between 17,212 and 18,915. The species is considered near threatened.

The northern white rhino is a different and unfortunate story. There are only two females left, after the last male, Sudan, died in March 2018.

White rhinos are the second-largest land mammal, after the elephant. Adult males can weigh 8,000 pounds and reach 6 feet tall. The theory is that the white rhino's name came from the Afrikaans word "weit" meaning wide in reference to the white rhino’s muzzle.

View Article Sources
  1. "Black Rhino." World Wildlife Fund.

  2. "Global rhino populations." Save The Rhino.