Black Rhinoceros

Black Rhinoceros

[ Diceros bicornis ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 9 to 12 feet

27 inches

HEIGHT: 4 to 6 feet (at shoulder)
WEIGHT: 1,750 to 3,100 pounds 
WILD DIET: tender to woody shrubs, herbs, and leave
ZOO DIET: alfalfa hay, grass hay, alfalfa grain pellets, carrots, apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, and browse
DISTRIBUTION: Africa, south of the Sahara, in small, scattered populations
HABITAT: open savannah and thick scrub country


Pachyderm in Peril

Giant of the savannah
There is something almost ancient and dinosaur-like about a black rhino’s size and appearance. With a massive, powerful body and an impressive set of horns, a black rhinoceros is an awesome sight on the savannah of east Africa. A black rhinoceros can tip the scales at more than 3,000 pounds. It is one of the largest land mammals on earth.

Horn of plenty
The first things you notice about a black rhinoceros are the horns. Even its name comes from it’s horn (rhino = nose and ceros = horn). A black rhino’s front horn can be two to three feet long. The rear horn is much shorter. The horns are made of tightly packed, bone-hard fibers that is the same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails. The two horns together make for a formidable appearance, sitting atop the rhino’s huge head. This business end of a rhino is an effective defense against lions, and is used for sparring with other rhinos. But for all the advantages such a weapon gives, the black rhino’s horn may be its downfall...

A mixed blessing
Horns are valuable to black rhinos. They’ve helped them survive in the wild for eons. But some people value rhino horns, too. That’s bad news for rhinos, and the main reason they are nearly extinct. Some cultures around the world believe that the rhino horn works as a pain reliever. Other people carve the horns into dagger handles. Although black rhinos are protected in many African countries, their horns are so much in demand that poachers are very bold in their attempts to obtain horns.

Would glasses help?
Rhinos have very poor eyesight—they’re extremely nearsighted. So they use their senses of hearing and smell to make up for it. Black rhinos have long tube-shaped ears that act as funnels for sound. They can swivel their ears in all directions, picking up noises from a great distance over the savannah. They also have an excellent sense of smell, which gives them lots of information about their surroundings.

Lip service
Black rhinos have a prehensile upper lip that they use to grasp and tear the woody shrubs and leaves that make up most of their diet. The flexible lip is almost like a finger. It helps them grab enough vegetation in a day to sustain their huge bulk.

Drastic Decline
During the last century, the black rhino has suffered the most drastic decline in total numbers of all rhino species, with only 4240 found in a 2011 census. As the demand for rhino horn in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries increases, poaching rates in southern Africa have soared sky high. Poaching for horn used in traditional medicine is the biggest threat to rhinos at this time. They are listed as critically endangered.

Brookfield Zoo is proud to have one of the most successful black rhino breeding programs in the world. Information learned about rhino breeding behaviors at Brookfield Zoo may help save some of the other species of rhinos.

Black rhinoceros at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for black rhinos. SSPs are cooperative breeding, conservation, and education programs among North American Zoos. Brookfield Zoo has been very successful in breeding black rhinos over the years. You can see black rhinos at the Pachyderm House.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society