The rhinoceros has been around for 50 million years and today just five species remain. One of these species is the white rhino, found in grasslands in Africa’s bushveld (suptropical woodland) savannah.
What makes a white rhino?
- Both males and females of the species have two horns, with the longest at the front. These are used in defence against rival rhinos and predators.
- The broad square-shaped upper lip comes in handy for cropping large quantities of grasses.
- The white rhino has a pronounced shoulder hump of muscle and a thick neck to support its massive head, which is lowered for grazing for much of the day.
- Don’t be fooled by the name – a white rhino’s nearly hairless skin is slate-grey to yellow-brown in colour, not white.
- The largest rhinoceros species, a male white rhino weighs in at 2.3 tonnes and reaches 3.7-4 metres from head to tail, while females are slightly smaller at 1.7 tonnes and 3.4-3.65 metres in length.
Look out for these distinguishing features in our white rhino herd when you visit ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
Meet our herd
At Whipsnade we have one male white rhino, Nsiswa, known to keepers as Sizzle. He was born in the wild in Hluluwe-Umfolozi reserve in South Africa (the last stronghold for the southern white rhino sub-species, when in the early part of the 20th Century only numbered around 50 animals). Now aged 30 years, he's a real favourite!
We also have four females:
- Clara is 37 years old and was born at Whipsnade. She's the dominant female in the group
- 28-year-old Mikumi who was born at Edinburgh Zoo
- Tuli who is 11 years old. She was born at Efurt Zoo, Germany, and is very energetic and food orientated
- And newest addition Bertha who is 20 years old. She joined us from Knuthenborg Zoo and while she initially did like to do her own thing, she has now integrated well into the group.
Whipsnade has the best breeding record of the sub species within Europe. The large paddock is shared with gemsbok, blesbok and sitatunga.
Rhinos under threat
Rhino horns are made of densely packed, tiny tubes of keratin (a protein that fingernails and hair are made of). And, like nails and hair, they grow back if they are cut off. The dark core of the horn is strengthened by calcium and melanin. The horns are used in traditional medicine in Asia and also to make dagger handles in the Middle East, and poaching for rhino horn is a huge problem.
Rhino horn is worth more, by weight, than either gold or diamonds. In recent years the impact of illicit wildlife trade (IWT) on species like the rhino has reached unprecedented levels.
ZSL is working to tackle to illegal willdife trade. Our conservation teams use community engagement, patrol techniques, training and technology to protect rhinos and tackle wildlife crime.