How do you tell a northern white from a southern white rhino? Apart from existing in different parts of Africa, these separate species of rhino are clearly differentiated on all measurable components, including tooth measurements, skull lengths, widths and depths, and limb bone lengths. So what’s the difference between them?
Rhinos belong to the Order Perissodactyla – the “odd-toed” mammals and the family Rhinocerotidae (Rhinoceroses). Their front and back feet each have three toes. The genus name for the white rhino is Ceratotherium from the Greek cerato (horn) and thorium (wild beast). The species name is simum (flat nosed). Northern and southern white rhino were originally thought to be subspecies of one another, but now it’s believed that they are separate species entirely.
So how are they different?
Northern – smaller 1400-1600 kg (adult male) – straight back – flat skull – no grooves between ribs – hairier ears and tails – shorter front horn.
Southern – larger 2000-2400 kg (adult male) – concave back and prominent shoulder hump – concave skull – sometimes with distinct vertical grooves between ribs – more body hair – longer front horn.
White is derived from the German word ‘weid’ meaning wide. The wide mouth is indicative of its feeding habits, i.e. they’re grazers, whereas black rhino are browsers and have a prehensile lip.
The last of the white rhino?
The northern white rhino used to range over parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their home range have devastated northern white rhino populations, and they are now considered to be extinct in the wild.
On the 19th of March 2018, we lost the last male northern white rhino and the world mourned. Sudan, the 45-year old gentle giant, was euthanized after his health had dramatically declined following a severe leg infection. Sudan’s last moments were spent at his home in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya with all of his closest and dearest minders and carers close by.
Sudan’s passing has left only two northern white rhinos alive in the world, both of them females. The two ladies are his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu, who also live on Ol Pejeta. This means that the hope of Sudan reproducing naturally never came to life and now efforts are being made to reproduce northern white rhinos using advanced cellular technologies and the genetic material that was collected from Sudan after his passing. Ol Pejeta Conservancy released the following statement earlier this year: The first-ever hybrid rhino embryo has been successfully created by a consortium of scientific organisations in Europe! You can read more about the breakthrough here.