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The rhinoceros (commonly called rhino for short; plural can be either rhinoceros or rhinoceroses)(rhinoceros is greek. rhino for nose, ceros for horn: horn-nosed.) is any of five surviving species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. All five species are native to Africa or Asia. Rhinoceros is also one of the genera in this family.
The family is characterised by: large size (one of the few remaining megafauna surviving today) with all of the species capable of reaching one tonne or more in weight; a horn on the center of the forehead (sometimes with a second one behind it); herbivorous diet; and a thick protective skin, 1.5-5 cm thick, formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure. Rhinoceros also have acute hearing and sense of smell, but poor eyesight over any distance. Most rhinoceros live to be about 50 years old or more. A male rhinoceros is called a bull, a female a cow, and the young a calf; a group of rhinoceros is called a "crash".
A powerful rhinoceros, though herbivorous, is arguably one of the deadliest creatures upon the earth to humans. In India and Nepal, rhinos cause the greatest number of wildlife-related human deaths each year, surpassing those caused by tigers and leopards. They have even been known to charge working elephants carrying tourists through the jungles. Much like other animals, they are most dangerous when in the presence of their young.
- C. simum - White Rhinoceros
- D. sumatrensis - Sumatran Rhinoceros
- D. bicornis - Black Rhinoceros
- R. unicornis - Indian Rhinoceros
- R. sondaicus - Javan Rhinoceros
- C. antiquitatis - Woolly Rhinoceros (extinct)
- E. sibiricum - Giant Unicorn (extinct)
Several rhinoceros species became extinct within geologically recent times, notably the Giant Unicorn and the Woolly Rhinoceros in Eurasia; the extent to which climate change or human predation was responsible is debated. Current evidence indicates that they probably had survived many climate changes before modern man arrived.
Rhinoceros-like animals first appeared in the Eocene as rather slender animals, and by the late Miocene there were many different species. Most were large. One, Indricotherium, may have weighed about 20 tons and (so far as is known) was the largest terrestrial mammal that ever lived. Rhinos in North America became extinct during the Pliocene, and in northern Asia and Europe during the Pleistocene.
The five living species fall into three categories.
- The critically endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros is the only surviving representative of the most primitive group, the Dicerorhinini, which emerged in the Miocene (abut 20 million years ago). The extinct Woolly Rhinoceros of northern Europe and Asia was also a member of this tribe.
- There are two living Rhinocerotini species, the endangered Indian Rhinoceros and the critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros, which diverged from one another about 10 million years ago.
- The two African species, the White Rhinoceros and the Black Rhinoceros, diverged during the early Pliocene (about 5 million years ago) but the Dicerotini group to which they belong originated in the middle Miocene, about 14 million years ago. The main difference between black and white rhinos is the shape of their lips. White rhinos have broad flat lips for grazing and black rhinos have long pointed lips for eating foliage. The name White Rhinoceros was actually a mistake for wijd (wide) because of their square lips. White Rhinoceros are divided into Northern and Southern species.
A subspecific hybrid white rhino (Ceratotherium s. simum × C. s. cottoni) was bred at the Dvurkralv Zoo (Zoological Garden Dvur Kralove nad Labem) in the Czech Republic in 1977.
Interspecific hybridisation of Black and White Rhinoceros has also been confirmed.
The most obvious distinguishing characteristic of the rhinos is a large horn above the nose. Rhinoceros horns, unlike those of other horned mammals, consist of keratin only and lacks a bony core, such as bovine horns.
Rhinoceros horns are used in traditional Asian medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen and Oman. None of the five rhinoceros species have secure futures; the White Rhinoceros is perhaps the least endangered, the Javan Rhinoceros survives in only tiny numbers (estimated at 60 animals in 2002) and is one of the two or three most endangered large mammals anywhere in the world.
Rhino protection campaigns began in the 1970s, but rhino populations have continued to decline dramatically. Trade in rhinoceros parts is forbidden under the CITES agreements, but poaching is a severe threat to all rhinoceros species.
There are a number of legends about rhinoceroses stamping out fire. The story seems to have been common in Malaysia and Burma.
This type of rhinoceros even had a special name in Malay, badak api, where badak means rhinoceros and api means fire. The animal would come when a fire is lit in the forest and stamp it out.
Whether or not there is any truth to this has not yet been proven, as there has been no documented sighting of this phenomenon in recent history. This lack of evidence may stem from the fact that rhinoceros sightings overall in Southeast Asia have become very rare, largely due to widespread illegal poaching of the critically endangered animal.
The idea of rhinos stamping out fire featured prominently in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy and also in an episode of The Simpsons.
Also in James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, James' parents are swallowed by a rhinoceros but rhinoceros are, in fact, herbivores, though very dangerous ones.
Albrecht Dürer created a famous woodcut of a rhinoceros in 1515, without ever seeing the animal depicted. As a result, Dürer's Rhinoceros is rather inaccurate.
- Chapman, Jan. 1999. The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China. Christies Books, London. ISBN 0-903432-57-9.
- Laufer, Berthold. 1914. "History of the Rhinoceros." In: Chinese Clay Figures, Part I: Prolegomena on the History of Defence Armor. Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, pp. 73-173.
- Rhinoceros skin and horn characteristics (pdf file)
- Robinson, Terry J., V. Trifonov, I. Espie, E.H. Harley (01 2005). "Interspecific hybridisation in rhinoceroses: Confirmation of a Black × White rhinoceros hybrid by karyotype, fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) and microsatellite analysis". Conservation Genetics 6 (1): 141-145. DOI:10.1007/s10592-004-7750-9.
- International Rhino Foundation
- SOS Rhino
- Save The Rhino
- Rhinoceros entry on World Wide Fund for Nature website.
- Rhino photos and information (includes black and white rhinos)