White rhinos and black rhinos are found in small pockets of eastern and southern Africa; greater one-horned rhinos in northern India and southern Nepal; Sumatran and Javan rhinos in small areas of Malaysia and Indonesia.


Open grasslands and floodplains for black and white rhinos; swamps and rain forests for greater one-horned, Javan, and Sumatran rhinos.

Ambassadors from another age

The rhinoceros looks as though it has lumbered into our time from some primeval era. Its heavyset body stands on sturdy legs like tree trunks. Its eyes peer from a massive head that tapers to that battering ram of a horn. In our imaginations, the rhino is the embodiment of brute strength. Yet most of the time this fearsome creature is content to browse peacefully on vegetation.

The rhino’s lineage is an ancient one—its ancestors walked the Earth 55 million years ago. One of these ancestors, the paraceratherium, was 25 feet (7.6 meters) long and 18 feet (5.5 meters) high at the shoulder, the largest land mammal ever known. Throughout the eons, close to 100 known rhinoceros species have existed. Today, only five species continue the line: two native to Africa and three native to Asia.

All about rhinos

What all rhinos have in common are one or two horns, a broad chest, thick skin, poor eyesight, excellent hearing, and a fondness for rolling in the mud. Their thick skin acts like protective plating but is sensitive, as the blood vessels are close to the skin’s surface, and can be easily scarred. Rhinos soak in mud or roll in dust as protection against sunburn and insect bites.

Because rhinos are very nearsighted, they often charge when startled; in the wild, rhinos have been observed charging at boulders or trees. This defense mechanism has given them an undeserved reputation for having a bad temper. Their ears can move independently of each other, and one may be cocked forward while the other is directed backward, or both may perk straight up when an interesting sound that requires total concentration is detected.

Don't be fooled by a rhino's lumbering size—a black rhino can thunder along at 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).
A group of rhinos is sometimes called a “crash”—an appropriate term for a large and ponderous animal that can crash through just about anything in its way.
Rhinos may look indestructible, but their skin is actually quite sensitive, especially to sunburn and biting insects.
White rhinos have a hump of muscle on their neck and shoulders to hold up a head that can weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds (362 to 454 kilograms).
Do rhinos really put out fires in the wild? This is a popular legend that has inspired scenes in movies, descriptions in stories, and even the names of fire-fighting units, but there have been no actual recorded accounts of this happening.
Finding a way to mimic the way rhino horn forms and repairs itself could lead to better impact-resistant bumpers for cars.
Black rhinos grow the longest horns, with the front horn capable of reaching up to 4 feet (1.3 meters) in length.
All three Asian rhino species are excellent swimmers.
White rhinos crop grasses so short when they graze that they create “grazing lawns” that benefit smaller herbivores and serve as firebreaks.
Black rhinos can go for up to five days without drinking water, getting needed moisture from succulent plants.
White rhino males can be persistent, with courtship lasting 5 to 20 days.

Our first rhinos

The San Diego Zoo obtained its first rhinoceros in 1952, a two-year-old black rhino calf from Kenya. Named Sally, she was an immediate hit with zoogoers. However, despite two mates, she failed to breed. Finally, 40 years after Sally’s arrival, a black rhino was born here in 1992. He was named Werikhe in honor of Michael Werikhe, “the rhino man.” Mr. Werikhe was a Kenyan conservationist known for his long "rhino walks” to educate people about the plight of the rhino and to raise money to support rhino reserves. He is a good example of what one person can do to make a difference!

Greater one-horned rhinos first came to the Zoo in 1963, and this species was among the original animals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park when it opened to the public in 1972. Just three years later, the Park welcomed its first greater one-horned rhino calf and has had breeding success with this species ever since.

Safari Park success

In 1971, 20 southern white rhinos arrived at the Safari Park from South Africa to become the founding generation of the Park’s white rhino herd. From the original 20 animals, which we refer to as the founder animals, 94 more have been born, including our newest calf, Kianga, born in October 2015. Most of these have moved on to live in other facilities around the world. Kids love to climb all over our life-sized bronze statue of Mandala, a male white rhino brought to the Park from the San Diego Zoo.

Mandala had lived with a female partner at the Zoo, but the two rhinos had never showed any romantic interest in each other. When Mandala arrived at the Park, he was inspired by its larger exhibit space and by the other females that had been brought from South Africa. He fathered the first white rhino to be born at the Park. When his former Zoo mate joined the Park's herd a bit later, she, too, had a calf. Mandala went on to sire 50 offspring! A founder female, Nthombi, raised 10 calves of her own and was a surrogate mother to 2 more. Born in Africa in 1966, she is currently the oldest of our rhinos, living in the twilight of her life.

Today, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has the largest crash of rhinos and the most successful managed-care breeding program for rhinos anywhere in the world. We currently have eastern black rhinos, southern white rhinos, and greater one-horned rhinos. The Park holds the record for the most rhinos born in a zoo: 176 from 3 species, including 5 generations of black rhinos and 7 generations of greater one-horned rhinos. One of our youngest calves is a fifth-generation greater one-horned rhino, the first such birth in the world!

Rhino horns
For centuries, the rhino existed largely unchallenged by other animals. But the advent of high-powered weapons brought a new and deadly enemy: humans. Over the ages, rhino horn has been used to treat illnesses, especially fevers. Yet like our fingernails and hair, rhino horn is made of keratin and has no healing properties. In Africa, thousands of rhinos were slaughtered each year just for their horn, used for traditional medicines in Asia and dagger handles in the Middle East. By the early 1990s, the population of black rhinos had been reduced by 96 percent and today stands at just over 5,000 animals.

To try to stop the slaughter, African countries began working to protect their rhinos, China no longer approved the use of rhino horn for traditional medicines, and countries in the Middle East promoted dagger handles made of synthetic materials. These efforts reduced rhino poaching measurably. Today, however, that has all changed, and the increasing price paid for rhino horn encourages greedy folks, eager for quick cash and now often affiliated with criminal syndicates, to kill these magnificent animals just for their horns.

Intensive anti-poaching and habitat protection efforts in the wild have helped some rhinos make a comeback. Poaching in Indonesia has been almost eliminated, thanks to that country’s Rhino Protection Units, and Sumatran rhino population numbers are on the rise, now reaching about 100 animals. But there is still heavy poaching in South Africa; that country’s average loss is about three rhinos per day. And there are fears that the Javan rhino may soon become extinct, as so few of them can be found.

Less than 50 Javan rhinos live in a national park on Java, Indonesia, where they are protected; it is believed that there are no Javan rhinos anywhere else. And there are now just three northern white rhinos Ceratotherium simum cottoni left on Earth, all of them in the care of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Help for rhinos
San Diego Zoo Global has done a great deal of conservation work with rhinos, especially once our San Diego Zoo Safari Park opened in the 1970s. The Safari Park has the most successful captive breeding program for rhinoceroses in the world. There have been 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos, and 13 black rhinos born at the Park since it opened 43 years ago, an important achievement for three species that are facing severe threats in the wild. Joining partners from around the world that support the International Rhino Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global is working to save the greater one-horned rhinoceros by translocating animals into safe habitat in Manas National Park, Assam. Currently, there are about 3,300 greater one-horned rhinos in native habitat.

All rhino species, whether in Asia or Africa, are critically endangered, but we won't give up hope as we continue to closely monitor radio-collared rhinos for years to come. Long-term conservation is our goal, as well as enlisting local community support for rhino recovery. San Diego Zoo Global supports the International Rhino Foundation by an annual grant and by having the Safari Park’s curator of mammals, Randy Rieches, sit on its board of directors. This support allows us to help fund conservation and rhino protection units in every country that rhinos are found.

Visiting the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park helps support rhino conservation, too. We can all work together to ensure a future for rhinos.

Join us!
You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.