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Scientific Classification
Subfamilies and Genera

Subfamily: Rhinocerotinae

  • Genus: Ceratotherium
    • Ceratotherium simum
  • Genus: Dicerorhinus
    • Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
  • Genus: Diceros
    • Diceros bicornis
  • Genus: Rhinoceros
    • Rhinoceros unicornis
    • Rhinoceros sondaicus



A Southern White Rhinoceros along with her young calf.
Cow and Calf.jpg

A Rhinoceros is any of the species that belong to the taxonomic family Rhinoceroteridae. Rhinos get their name from their most prominent physical feature, their horn(s). The word rhinoceros originates from the Greek rhino (nose) and ceros (horn). These large, odd-toed ungulates reside throughout Southern Africa and Southeast Asia,[2] but their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Illegal poaching of these magnificent beasts has led to a dramatic downfall in their population. All rhinoceros species are endangered and some are nearly extinct.[3] Rhinos are being placed in zoos and sanctuaries all over the globe in an attempt to prevent annihilation and to ensure the survival of the Family Rhinoceroteridae.[4]


White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum)

Habitat Range
Brown - native, Pink - reintroduced, Red - inroduced

Status: Near Threatened

The White Rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal behind the elephant. Weighing 4,000-6,000 lbs (1,800-2,700 kg), reaching 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8m) tall at shoulders, and 12.5-15 feet (3.8-5m) in length. This beast is the most common of all rhino species, with approximately 17,500 White Rhinos in the world today.[5] Another name for this species is the "broad-lipped" rhinoceros originating from its wide mouth. This shape of muzzle is practical for the White Rhino's grazing style of eating on the grasslands and savannahs of Africa.[6]

Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)

Habitat Range
Brown-native, Pink-introduced, Orange-probably extinct.

Status: Critically Endangered

There were once 65,000 Black Rhinos roaming the plains of Africa, but from over the course of twenty years their populations were diminished 96%. In a 2008 survey, there were about 4,240 surviving Black Rhinoceroses presently alive.[7] This species within the Family Rhinocerotidae is similar in appearance to that of the White Rhino. Although they both have a grey hairless hide and two horns, the Black Rhinoceros possesses a hook-lipped mouth. This triangular-shaped upper lip serves to assist the Black Rhino in grasping and consuming leaves and branches of trees and bushes.[4] In comparison with the other Rhinoceros species, the Black Rhino weighs 1,750-3,000 lbs (800-1,350 kg), stands 4.5-5.5 feet (1.4-1.7m) in height, and in length is 10-12.5 feet (3.0-3.8m).[7]

Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)

Habitat Range
Historically compared to 1997.

Status: Endangered

Residing in the floodplains and grasslands of northern India and southern Nepal, the Indian Rhino, also known as the Greater One-Horned Rhino, has been recovering its population. After a massive reduction in numbers due to illegal poaching, the Indian Rhinoceros population was less than 200. However, in recent years the number has steadily risen until there is an estimated 2,850 Greater One-Horned Rhinos in existence today. Like their name says, the Indian Rhino possesses one massive horn that can range from 8-24 inches (20-61 cm) in length. This beast's greyish brown, hairless skin resembles that of plated armor, but it is merely the folds of the skin.[8] The Indian Rhino's mouth appears a cross of the Black and White Rhino, with an upper lip practical for clinging to vegetation, like leaves and branches.[4] This species of Rhinoceros weighs 4,000-6,000 lbs (1,800-2,700 kg), at the shoulders is 5.75-6.5 feet (1.75-2m) tall, and is from head to tail 10-12.5 feet (3.0-3.8m) in length.[8]

Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Habitat Range
Historically compared to the present.

Status: Critically Endangered

Javan Rhinoceroses are one of the most endangered rhino species, with only about 35-47 alive today. All Javan Rhinos in Indonesia reside in western Java at Ujung Kulon National Park, where they are under constant guard. This species within the Family Rhinocerotidae is the most versatile eater of all the rhino species. Javan Rhinos have the ability to browse through the Indonesian rain forests or graze on the lowland grasses. The male Javan Rhinos have a solitary horn that is 10 inches (25cm) in length; females possess a stubbier horn or none at all. The Javan Rhinoceros species is characteristic for gray hairless skin, similar to the Black and White Rhino, and a wrinkled hide like that of the Indian Rhino, but it is not as prominent. Javan Rhinos are a smaller species of rhinoceros weighing only 2,000-5,060 lbs. (900-2,300 kg), standing 5-5.5 feet (1.5-1.7m) in height, and 6-11.5 feet (2.0-3.5m)in length.[9]

Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)

Habitat Range
Historically compared to the present.

Status: Critically Endangered

The Sumatran Rhino is a rhinoceros species that dwells in dispersed populations throughout Southeastern Asia, including Malaysia, Sabah, and mainly Indonesia. Today, there are approximately fewer than 200 rhinoceroses of this species in existence, and of those alive, most reside in protected national parks. Sumatran Rhinos are opportunistic feeders that eat a diverse array of vegetation in the thick tropical forests in which they live. The physical characteristics of the a Sumatran Rhinoceros include its small size, two horns, reddish-brown hide, bristled ears, and long coat of unevenly dispersed hair. This species of rhino is the smallest in the Family Rhincerotidae at only 3-5 feet (1-1.5m) in height, 6.5-9.5 feet (2-3m) in body length, and weighing only 1,300-2,000 lbs (600-950 kg).[10]


The hoof of a Sumatran Rhino displays the odd toed ungulate characteristic present in all species within the Family Rhinocerotidae.

Rhinoceroses characteristically are immense beasts with hefty heads, wide chests, bulky legs,[2] odd toed hoofs,[4] terrible vision, acute hearing,[2] and a developed sense of smell.[11] The size of these creatures varies within the species. From 1-2 tons, 4.8-6 ft. in height, and 8-13 ft. in length, the species of the Family Rhinoceroteridae are extremely diverse.[2]

Other common characteristics of rhinos are their great horn(s) and thick hides. The horn(s) of rhinoceroses are not truly horn(s); they are merely densely clump masses of hair, without skeletal support, that grow from the front of the skull.[4] The skin of rhinos vary in appearance, from the woolly coat of the Sumatran Rhino to the armor-plated Indian Rhino. However, these firm hides are very susceptible to insect bites and sunburns,[2] which is one reason rhinoceroses roll in riverbeds and mud wallows.

The mouths of rhinos are diverse, depending upon the type of vegetation they consume. Some rhinos possess a square-lipped mouth, which is ideal for grazing in the grasslands of Africa. Others are hook-lipped and have a triangular shaped upper lip that best serves to grasp branches, bushes, and leaves.[4] While others possess a combination of both the broad and hooked type mouths.[2] The unique and practical designs of rhinoceroses’ mouths prove and declare God’s detailed and magnificent creation.


Rhinoceroses are characteristically solitary creatures, but during the courting season bulls and cows congregate. During the courtship process, both males and females engage in fighting, which can occasionally lead to gruesome or fatal injuries from their deadly horn(s). After the bull wins his cow and mates with her, they part ways.[6] The gestation period for rhinos varies from 15 -16 months. Only a single calf is born at birth, which, depending upon the species, can weigh anywhere from between 88 - 140 lbs. (40 – 64 kg).[2] Within a week of birth, the calf begins consuming vegetation. The mother nurses the calf for a year [6] and protects it for 2 - 4 years or until the next offspring is born. At which time, the older calf leaves the female for either another crash (a group of rhinoceroses living together) or to live on its own.[4] The age of maturity in rhinos varies between sexes. Male bulls reach full maturity at 7 - 8 years of age; female cows mature in 5 - 6 years. The life span of rhinoceroses alters depending upon whether the creature lives in captivity or the wild. In general, rhinos live for 40 - 45 years.[2]


A White Rhino relaxes in a mud bath.


Rhino populations, depending upon their species, inhabit vast regions from Africa to Asia.[3] In Africa, rhinos tend to dwell in the open grasslands, savannahs, and floodplains, but some live in more wood-like vegetation. Rhinoceros species in southeastern Asia reside in dense terrain like swamps and rain forests.[2] However, all rhinos must live within the vicinity of a daily water source, whether it is a mud pool, riverbed, or swamp.[3]


All species of the Family Rhinocerotidae are herbivores, meaning they only consume vegetation.[6] In the evenings and through the coolness of night, these creatures browse and graze for food.[11] Rhinos may forage on anything from grass to the leaves of trees and shrubs, but this varies amongst different species and their location.[6] For water, rhinos must seek a local water hole, mud wallow, or marsh. While resting in a refreshing water hole, rhinos enjoy wallowing and rolling in the cold mud.[2]

A White Rhino's horn is a deadly weapon of defense as well as an expensive prize for poachers.


Rhinos are famously known for their horn(s), which they use as a defense to throw or gore their attackers, including lions, tigers, hyenas, and occasionally men.[6] However, the rhino possesses no great natural predator except for mankind. These creatures are characteristically known as aggressive and ferocious, but that is not the case. Rhinoceroses have poor vision and are extremely near-sighted.[2] If they are startled or feel threatened they will charge their adversaries at speeds up to 40 mph. (64 kilometers an hour).[2]


Rhinoceroses usually are solitary beasts, defending their own territory against other creatures, including fellow rhinos. To mark their region, rhinos use urine and produce massive heaps of dung, which can reach heights of 1 meter. These beasts will also then use their horn(s) to reconstruct the earth around the pile of manure, making the mound more prominent.[3]

An Indian Rhino cow and her calf rest in a marsh, along with a group of tickbirds.


Rhinoceroses possess an effective means of defense against external parasites from their symbiotic relationship with the oxpecker, commonly known as the tickbird. This small bird in Swahili is called "askari wa kifaru," which means “the rhino’s guard”. Tickbirds assist rhinos by eating all the ticks infested in their backs. However, oxpeckers also consume the blood from sores on their host, thus preventing their proper healing. Rhinoceroses however, still accept tickbirds and appreciate their services.[4]


Rhinoceros populations have dwindled dramatically in recent decades due to illegal and reckless poaching. It is estimated that the global rhino population has suffered a 90% reduction since the 1970s.[4] As a result, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has listed Indian rhinos as Endangered, and Javan rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, and three black rhinoceros subspecies as Critically Endangered.[11]

The main reason why rhinos are poached is for their expensive and magnificent horn(s). Rhinoceros horns are traditionally used in Asia, mainly China, Taiwan, and South Korea, for medicinal purposes. These horns are commonly used to create potions thought to lessen fevers, detect poison,[3] and boost sexual vigor.[6] In a survey of medical practitioners, 60% admitted to possessing rhino horn and of those, 27% claimed it was vital to their medical practice. [11] However, rhinoceros horns are only formed from keratin, like human hairs and nails, and possess no therapeutic properties.[2] Rhino horns are also fashioned into dagger handles, which displays social status, and ornamental carvings. The market for rhino horn dagger hilts in South East Asia (mainly Yemen) and the Middle East has increased twenty-fold since the 1970s. This high demand for rhinoceros horn has had a dramatic effect on their populations in these regions.[11]

In 2010, researchers estimate approximately 200 rhinos were killed in Africa, 19 were poached in India, and 11 died in Nepal.[2]

The increasing demand for rhinoceros horn has presented a deadly threat to an already near extinct rhino population. These creatures must frequently be relocated to enclosed safe havens for their species to survive.[4] Some regions are safely dehorning their rhinos so they are not prey to poachers.[2], but this leaves them vulnerable and defenseless to attack from their adversaries. The endangered rhinoceros populace is in a daily fight for survival against their deadliest enemy, man.



  1. Rhinoceros Author unknown. Wikipedia. Accessed 2/3/2011.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Mammals: Rhinoceros. Author unknown. Zoological Society of San Diego. Accessed 2/3/2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Rhinocerotidae. Liz Ballenger and Phil Myers, University of Michigan. Encyclopedia of Life. 12/23/2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Rhinoceros. Author unknown. African Wildlife Foundation. Accessed 2/3/2011.
  5. [White Rhino (Ceratotherum simum). Author Unknown, International Rhino Foundation, Accessed 2/27/11.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Rhinoceros Rhinocerotidae. Author unknown. Defenders of Wildlife. Accessed 2/3/2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 [Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis). Author Unknown, International Rhino Foundation, Accessed 2/27/11.
  8. 8.0 8.1 [Greater One-Horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis). Author Unknown, International Rhino Foundation, Accessed 2/27/11.
  9. Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus). Author Unknown, International Rhino Foundation, Accessed 2/27/11.
  10. [Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). Author Unknown, International Rhino Foundation, Accessed 2/27/11.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Rhinoceros. Author unknown. World Wildlife Fund. Accessed 2/3/2011.