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5 (More) Things You Might Not Know About Rhinos

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In Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, wildlife, Zimbabwe
AAC IRF white rhinoIn honor of the 40th anniversary of CITES we are focusing on the rhino over the next few weeks. Rhinos have unfortunately been targeted by poachers for their horns to be used in traditional eastern medicine, despite scientific proof that no healing powers exist within the horns.  We hope you enjoy learning more about these amazing animals, and we hope even more that you venture to Africa to see them for yourself!

Many thanks to the International Rhino Foundation for these facts.

White rhinos aren’t white and black rhinos aren’t black. 

The white rhino’s name is taken from the Afrikaans word “weit,” which means “wide” and describes its mouth. Early English settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “weit” for “white”. Black rhinos probably got their name from the dark wet mud in their wallows that made them appear black in color.  Both species are essentially gray in color. By comparison, the infamous Blue Rhino, corporate logo for the well known propane tank company, is entirely a figment of its founder’s imagination. 

Rhinos are faster than they look!

They can run up to 30 – 40 miles per hour, which may not sound like much, but the world’s fastest human could only keep pace with a charging rhino for a matter of seconds before being overtaken.  In a mile race, the top speed of an Olympic runner only approaches 15 miles an hour, so finding a tree to climb is a better strategy than trying to outrun a rhino! 

Rhino pregnancies last 15 – 16 months! 

That’s amazing! Consider, however, that a female elephant will carry a fetus for close to two years!  Camels and giraffes have gestation periods lasting 13 to 14 months, while female horses, sea lions and dolphins can require up to a year to give birth. A bear’s gestation period is about seven or eight months, a lion’s less than four, and domestic dogs and cats about two. The record for the shortest mammalian pregnancy is 12 to 13 days, held jointly by the Virginia opossum, the water opossum or yapok of Central and South America, and the native cat of Australia. 

A rhino’s skin is not as tough as it looks, and can actually be quite sensitive to sunburns and insect bites. 

That’s why rhinos like rolling in the mud so much – it helps to protect them from the sunburns and insects. A rhino’s skin is actually several times thicker than biologists would predict based upon the animal’s size.  It also appears tough and durable, an impression that’s not lost on manufacturers. So you can buy products that use the name Rhino to protect things like your iPod, your automobile’s paint job or the bed of your pickup truck. On the more fanciful side, let’s not forget Rudyard Kipling’s famous tale, How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin. In this story, an Indian rhino removes its skin before bathing in the sea, only to have a prankster fill it with cake crumbs. As a result, the rhino rubs and scratches incessantly, but only succeeds in developing large folds in his skin, as well as a very bad temper. And you thought evolution had something to do with it!     


Despite a common myth, there is no evidence that rhinos stamp out forest fires.

This legend  seems to have originated long ago in Southeast Asia, referring to the badak api or “fire rhino”. The notion was reinforced much more recently in the movie The Gods Must be Crazy, in which a white rhinoceros charges into a bush camp and stomps out the camp fire. The truth is that, like most animals, rhinos have an instinctive aversion to fire and are much more likely to skedaddle than attempt to rush in and put out a fire.

You can have a good chance of seeing rhinos in several African countries, especially South Africa. Click below to see a selection of our South African safaris.

Photo courtesy IRF

Categories: Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, wildlife, Zimbabwe
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