The Black Rhino, aka Hook-lipped Rhinoceros

By: Sascha Bos  | 
A black rhino walking in grasslands
The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros, is one of two species of rhino found in Africa. Keren Su / Getty Images

The black rhino is one of the rarest animals on the African continent — but it wasn't always. At the beginning of the 20th century, there may have been a million black rhinos across Africa.

Learn more about this unique species and the conservation efforts underway to save it.

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About Black Rhinos

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros, is one of two species of rhino found in Africa. (The other is the white rhino.)

Here are some fascinating black rhino facts:

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  • The name "hook-lipped rhinoceros" comes from the black rhino's upper lip, which it uses to grasp its food: woody plants, like small acacia trees and succulents.
  • Black rhinos have two horns made of keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails. The front horn is longer (20 to 55 inches or 50.8 to 139.7 cm) than the back horn (up to 22 inches or 55.9 cm).
  • Adult black rhinos weigh 1,500 to 3,080 (680.4 to 1,397.1 kg) pounds and are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) high at the shoulder and 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) long.
  • Black rhino calves weigh 66 to 99 pounds (30 to 45 kg) at birth and live with their mothers for 2 to 4 years.
  • Black rhinos have poor eyesight and use scent-marking to communicate.

Where Do Black Rhinos Live?

Black rhino populations occur in the savannas and shrubland of southern and eastern Africa. There are three surviving black rhino subspecies.

  • The eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) lives in Kenya and northern Tanzania.
  • The southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) is found in South Africa, Zimbabwe and southern Tanzania.
  • The southwestern black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) is found in Namibia and South Africa.

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Identifying Black Rhinos vs. White Rhinos

There are two rhino species in Africa: the black rhino and the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum). Black and white rhinos are actually the same color (gray), but there are a few key differences.

  • Lip: Black rhinos have a prehensile upper lip, meaning their upper lip is pointed. White rhinos have a square upper lip.
  • Size: Black rhinos are smaller than white rhinos.
  • Neck hump: White rhinos have a pronounced neck hump; black rhinos have a smaller neck hump.
  • Conservation status: The white rhino is much more abundant than the black rhino. Although all rhino species are on the IUCN Red List, white rhinos are near threatened, while black rhinos are critically endangered.

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Black Rhino Conservation Status

In the 20th century, there were more black rhinos than any other type of rhino; perhaps as many as one million, per Britannica. Between 1960 and 1995, the world's black rhino population experienced a dramatic reduction of 98 percent, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The black rhino received the IUCN Red List status critically endangered in 1996, and is still critically endangered today. The biggest threat to black rhinos is the illegal wildlife trade of rhino horns.

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"You've got to imagine an animal walking around with a gold horn; That's what you're looking at, that's the value and that's why you need incredibly high security," Simon Stuart, former Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, told the BBC in 2011, when the organization declared the subspecies western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) extinct.

The IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) does not release specific location information for surviving populations to protect black rhinos.

Thanks to anti-poaching efforts, black rhino populations are slowly increasing. In 2022, IUCN counted 6,487 black rhinos, a 4.2 percent increase from 2021.

"With this good news, we can take a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade. However, it is imperative to further consolidate and build upon this positive development and not drop our guard,” AfRSG chair Michael Knight said in a press release.

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