Rhino White

Population numbers of black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) are critically depleted across all of Africa. We do not hunt them. Ironically, just as the black rhinoceros is not really “black”, neither is the white rhinoceros anywhere near “white”. The white rhinoceros consists of two sub-species, the northern white rhinoceros, whose population numbers are also low, and the southern white rhinoceros whose population numbers in the wild are believed to be about 19,600 to 21,000. It is the southern white rhino species that we hunt, and we are able to do so, once again, because of the importance of fee-based sport hunting to rhino conservation.

A popular theory about how the white rhino got its name has to do with the shape of its mouth. The black rhino is a browser, so has narrow lips capable of grasping twigs and buds. In contrast the white rhino is a grazer and has a flat wide mouth suitable for plucking grass at low levels to the ground. The Dutch (who settled southern Africa) word for wide is “wijd” which somehow got anglicized into “white”. So, one would presume the proper common name for the white rhino should be “wide-mouth rhino”. However, the name “white rhino” stuck.

Responsible South Africans are proud and protective of their population of white rhinos. As a consequence, at considerable expense to themselves, there are a number of white rhino breeders throughout South Africa who look after and breed rhinos in a wild environment. This keeps overall population levels, as well as genetic diversity, at higher levels than they would be if only truly wild populations were the only source of genetic material. Fortunately, captured wild rhinos will readily breed when removed from the environment in which they were captured if provided appropriate amounts of space and food along with the accompaniment of other females of breeding age. Thus, wild rhino can be captured, released into an alternative controlled wild environment where they are looked after, and live, breed, and survive just as they had previously been doing.

White rhinos reach sexual maturity early in life: 6-7 years for females, and 10-12 years for males. They will live to be 40-50 years old but not maintain their ability to breed that long. Thus, older non-breeding males become a liability as they will fight and kill other competing males for access to the females. This becomes a problem in trying to manage population dynamics. As happens with any animal population, at some point both breeding males and females will reach an age when they are past their breeding prime and are reaching what we would term “old age”. The breeder then has the choice of simply watching the animal die of natural causes, butchering the animal for whatever the price of the horn, meat and hide would bring, or selling the hunting opportunity to a willing sportsman. It is these excess animals that we are able to hunt in their natural environment.

A mature white rhino will weigh slightly more, on average, than a hippopotamus. It will have a large head, a short neck and a massive body measuring 6 feet at the shoulder and up to 13 feet in length. A big male will weigh 5000 pounds. Both males and females have horns. The male typically has a shorter horn (about 24 inches) that carries more mass. The females will not have massive horns like the males, but sometimes the length can grow to almost 60 inches. Either sex makes for an excellent trophy.

A rhino will usually drink twice a day. However, if water is in short supply, it can go for as long as 4-5 days without water. It spends about 1/2 a day eating, 1/3 of a day truly resting, and the rest of the day engaged in just loafing around. Hunting techniques involve mostly tracking by investigating water holes and dusty roads looking for footprints. Rhino has three toes and hippo four, so it is easy to make a distinction between the two. Once tracks are found a stalk will begin. Rhinos have notoriously poor eyesight, but this shortcoming should not be taken for granted. They have good hearing: their ears can move independently of one another. But, their sense of smell is their principle defense mechanism. Thus, they must be approached from down-wind. Rhino are typically shot at close range. A good reliable .375 will handle them well enough, but a .416 is a better choice. Due to their body mass, thick skin and heavy bone structure a high quality solid bullet is necessary; no softs. Be instantly ready with a follow-up shot and keep shooting so long as you see movement.