Rhinos are interesting and complex creatures that have spent millennia evolving into the five subspecies that exist today. One subspecies, the Sumatran rhino, has been listed as Critically endangered. By increasing awareness of these animals, we may be able to slow or stop the loss of these creatures, however, at this point in time, it seems unlikely. There are many interesting characteristics of the rhino, so here are a few things to remember about our prehistoric mammalian cousins.
The rhino is a throwback from Eocene era millions of years ago, and still carries the stature of its ancestors. It is speculated that modern rhinos are the ancestral remnants of three distinct subtypes. From the 1980s onward, the rhino population has only decreased, leaving current conservation status to only a fraction of original populations. The Sumatran rhino is speculated to be closest living genetic root to prehistoric ancestors still on Earth.
When a person mentions a rhinoceros, the first image that comes to mind is the animals glorious horn. This horn is made up of strong fibers known as keratin. This same protein can be found in human skin, hair and nails. Most rhinos use their horns for territorial combat or as a tool to reach sought after morsels.
Most rhinos have characteristic flaps of skin that cover their necks and hips. This skin is very thick and tough, to protect against sharp foliage and the occasional predatory attack. In the larger rhinoceros, this skin also protects a layer of subcutaneous fat. This additional layer protects these massive creatures from overheating and freezing in extremely cold temperatures. This “armor” has also been the prize of poachers for centuries.
Two lip separate lip structures offset the black rhino from the rest of the “herd”. Black rhinos, or hook lipped, are identified by their pointed lip use to cut branches and grabbing saplings. White rhinos has a square or flat lip more appropriately suited grazing, though the sumatran rhino actively browsed with this mastication method.
Rhinos once stretched across nearly every ecosystem available on planet earth. Today they have been relegated strictly to dense rainforests, secluded glades, and other far flung locations. The largest populations can only be found in national parks, where they are highly protected. The rhino will likely never see its original proliferation in such diverse areas. Rhinos major habitats are most likely where food is readily available, as well as easily accessible water sources.
The most interesting of rhino behaviors are those that involve social interaction. Rhinos are known to communicate vocally, if only in a rudimentary fashion. When gathered near a watering hole, salt lick, or public wallows, rhinos will grunt and snort to one another. The exact meanings of these vocalizations are still unknown, but several separate sounds have been recorded by humans.
Their mating habits are particularly strange. When an ovulating female enters the territory of a bull male, the male will attempt to bar the female’s path. If the male can contain the female, after a period of acclimation lasting as long as three days, the pair will copulate. After copulating, the pair will stay together for up to a month. After this time, the female will find a secluded area to give birth to a single calf. Twins are rare, very rare.
A mother will raise her calf for up to four years. After it is born, it only takes about a day for the young calf to start walking, and it will be fully functional in about a week. The mother will wean the calf off of milk after as much as a year. The calf will stay close to its mother’s side for the next two to three years, for protection. When it is old enough, the mother will drive the calf away to fend for itself, when it has learned to feed and protect itself.
Predators And Conservation
Because of its immense size, the rhinoceros has very few natural predators, and fewer still that have ever taken a full grown rhino down. The most dangerous predator to the rhinoceros is the human, which has destroyed more than seventy percent of original populations. The white and Indian rhinos are currently listed as Vulnerable and recent strides have brought their population back to manageable levels. The Black rhino and Sumatran rhino are listed as critically endangered, and their populations have been reduced to levels that cannot be managed, and have continued to degrade due to genetic deterioration. The Javan rhino has recently become extinct regionally, and will never return to its natural habitat.