The Black Rhinoceros is a territorial, solitary animal that can be quite aggressive. It has a head to body length of 3 - 3.8m and stands between 1.4 and 1.5m high at the shoulder. A Black Rhino has an average weight of 1400kgs and its front horn can range from 50cm – 130cm in length.
The Black Rhino has two horns positioned along the middle of the snout. They are composed of Keratin, the protein which forms the basis for hair and nails. They have a prehensile upper lip which is used to pluck branches and leaves from shrubs.
The Black Rhino has poor vision and relies mainly on its sense of smell to explore surroundings. They also have good hearing, picking up sounds with their tubular ears.
The Black Rhinoceros is critically endangered and once roamed the lower half of Africa in hundreds of thousands. Today it survives in pockets primarily in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Tanzania.
Females are able to breed from age five however males don’t reach sexual maturity till age six. After a 15 month gestation, a calf weighing approximately 30kgs is born. It will suckle until around one year old and stay with its mother for two to three years until her next calf is born. The life expectancy of a Black Rhinoceros is 35 – 40 years.
The Black Rhinoceros is a herbivore that eats on leaves, twigs and branches from a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Black Rhinos have a prehensile upper lip which allows them to feed on more material from the woody parts of shrubs and plants on which they feed.
Between 1970 and 1995, the numbers of Black Rhinoceros drastically declined from 65,000 to less than 2000. The numbers have since risen to about 5000. The cause for the dramatic drop has been due to poaching by humans for their horn which is sold in powdered form for medicinal purposes in Asia. The horn is also used to make handles for daggers which are status symbols in some Middle Eastern countries. Habitat destruction is also a common problem for the Black Rhino as it reduces living space and food supply. This threat has exploded again recently, with a 5000% increase in rhino poaching in South Africa alone over the last five years. Experts estimate that this species may be wiped out within the next 20 years if this threat continues.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s breeding and research program
In 1991, breeding facilities for the Black Rhinoceros were established at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. During 1992/3 breeding animals were brought from Zimbabwe to the Cocos Islands where they spent 60 days in quarantine. They arrived in Dubbo on 4 February 1993 to help breed sufficient Black Rhinoceros so that viable populations may eventually be released back into protected reserves in the wild.
In 2008, Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Berlin’s Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research achieved the world’s first successful fertilisation of a Black Rhinoceros egg. Thee egg was collected from one of the Zoo’s females and fertilised using the sperm of one of the males, creating an embryo.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is home to one of the largest populations of this Black Rhinoceros sub-species in human care in the world.