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Desert Rhino in Kunene, Namibia

Black rhino used to roam extensively across sub-Saharan Africa but following the rapid decline in numbers and threat of extinction, the black rhino strives for survival in the protected reserves and remote areas of arid wilderness.

Desert adapted black rhinos rehabilitated in the Kunene

One of the most intriguing of the species.

Desert rhino have a slightly different appearance to other black rhinos… Rhinos of the Kunene are usually solitary, tending not to live in small groups (unlike other black rhino populations). A mother however, will remain with her calf around two and a half years. Enough time for the youngster to lean the vital methods of survival in one of the toughest habitats on the planet!

Consequently many desert rhino are ‘lone rangers’ who form striking silhouettes on the natural landscapes. Lone bulls can be quite aggressive – worth noting if you’re privileged to spot one in the wild!

Desert rhino facts…

  • Common name – Black rhino, Synonym: Hook-lipped rhino. Scientific name: Diceros bicornis
  • These specially adapted creatures can withstand sweltering heat – in excess of 40°C (100°F) but can also cope with the below freezing temperatures common after dark in Namibia’s arid regions. The rhinos are mostly nocturnal so that they can avoid the excessive heat of the day
  • they’ve developed resistance to the native plants’ toxic chemicals
  • a favourite during droughts is the Euphorbia plant
  • the desert rhino has evolved to survive without water for 2 or 3 days
  • it’s the smaller of the two African species with a less marked hump at the back of their necks
  • adult males – weigh up to 1,350 kg; adult female up to 900 kg. Birth weight: 35-45kg.
  • height at shoulder: approximately 1.6 m tall
  • skin colour: dark grey colour (variable depending on the soil conditions where the rhino lives – rhinos love to wallow in the mud or dust, their skin reflects the colour

black-rhino_little_ongava_MM[1] Black rhino near Ongava courtesy Mike Myers for Wilderness Safaris

Simply unique, Namibia’s black rhino population thrive in country’s dry, harsh deserts, unlike the rhino populations in other countries

Did you know… there’s no colour variance between the black and white rhino? The horn itself is made of thousands hair-like strands of keratin which are compressed. It’s very tough but can split during a fight. The anterior (front) horn is longer than the posterior (rear) horn – approx. 50 cm.

  • Black rhinos only have hair on the tips of their tails, ears and eyelashes
  • the black rhino has two horns which grow at the base and continue to grow throughout the rhino’s lifetime
  • the size and shape of the horns vary depending on where the rhino lives. The horn shape is difference between male and female rhino: males have thicker horns. Females tend to have longer and thinner horns
  • Black rhinos have smaller heads than the white rhino: they tend to browse, eating from trees and higher bushes which means that they need strength in their neck muscle than white rhinos
  • all rhino species have 3 toes with 3 nails. Their front feet are larger than the hind feet.

Population density of the Black rhino in the desert plains of Western Kunene, Namibia is one rhino per 100 km2. Namibia’s black rhinos make up one third of the world’s remaining rhino population.

DoraNawas_black-rhinoDA-001[1]Desert rhino near Doro !Nawas courtesy Dana Allen for Wilderness Safaris

The Desert rhino’s range can span almost 200 km2. or 50,000 acres. This is twice the distance of rhinos in South Africa. A few desert rhinos have been reported with over 700 km2 or 173,000 acre range!

‘Middens’ or dung piles are a common scent-mark. The black rhinos will defecate in one spot repeatedly or create dung piles to mark their home range.
Black rhinos will rub a scent glands against a tree or rock leaving a distinctive scent to mark a territory.

The sound of a rhino… snorting, grunting and sniffing are common sounds when a rhino is disturbed. The also grunt to communicate between groups.

A little activity… black rhinos are least active during the heat of the day between 10am and 3pm) when they take to the shade of large rocks or trees or wallow in the mud. They become more active after dark when the temperatures drop.

Senses… Black rhinos have poor eyesight struggling to focus at a 30 metres distance. They rely heavily on their sense of smell and hearing.

Black rhino are fast! With speeds recorded of 55 km/h. surprisingly quick-footed and can turn sharply to run right through bushes and scrub.
Black rhinos will live up to 30-35 years in the wild

A bird in the hand… (Or on the back) you may spot red and yellow-billed ox-peckers on a rhino’s back – they’re removing ticks and clearing parasites from open wounds… they’ll also warn of approaching danger

The Palmwag Concession is home to the largest free-roaming population of rare and endangered black rhino.

Back from the brink… mass poaching severely affected the Kunene’s desert wildlife. The desert rhino was almost driven to the brink of extinction between the late 1970s and the ’80s, with the rise in the illegal ivory trade. Hunting and poaching had totally eradicated their populations in the arid regions, but since the 1980’s thanks to the work of organisations like the Save the Rhino Trust their population has increased fivefold!

Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) was formed to stop the Rhino slaughter and today it offers an income for the community by employing locals as wildlife guards. The SRT has been working to protect the desert adapted black rhino of Namibia’s Kunene and Erongo regions for 30 years.

Dedicated SRT trackers make patrols on a daily basis monitoring the remaining free-ranging population of black rhino. Poaching isn’t eradicated but the rhino population is on the rebounded. Although still a concern the joint efforts of the Save the Rhino Trust, the Namibian Government and the local communities, the threat is far less.

See Desert Rhino on safari

Protecting Namibia’s Kunene region of Namibia

Latest news from the Kunene

Find out more about the Save the Rhino Trust here