September 22 – Nobody nose

Today’s factismal: The white rhinoceros and the black rhinoceros are almost exactly the same color.

Ah, the rhinoceros. Built like a tank, looks like a Russian weightlifter.  Thirteen feet long and weighing more than two tons, the rhinoceros or rhino for short is one of nature’s most amusing and amazing animals.  As ugly as an A-10 and even tougher, these far-ranging  critters roam across Africa and Asia, nibbling on leaves and trying to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, trouble often seeks them out.

A black rhino, hiding in the bush (My camera)

A black rhino getting clean
(My camera)

That’s because the rhinoceros has an amazing schnozz, as the critter’s name tells you. Rhinoceros literally means “nose horn” because it’s nose has a great honkin’ horn. Like all true horns, this one is made out of keratin (the same stuff in fingernails and hair) and lacks a bony core. That huge horn plus the rhino’s general toughness has led some men who feel a little inadequate to seek out powdered rhino horn to fix their little (and I do mean little) problem. And even though that doesn’t work, it has led to the decline of the rhino. Most recently, it drove the West African Black Rhino into extinction and looks to push the Northern White Rhino after it. (Amusingly, both the white and the black rhinos are mostly grey.)

A black rhino at the local rhino wash (My camera)

A black rhino hiding in the bush
(My camera)

Even the most abundant rhino species, the Southern White Rhino, only has about 20,000 individuals who roam about in crashes of  about a dozen animals with a dominant male and several females and calves. Like any true politician, the dominant male will stake out an area by building piles of poop; he then leads the crash (or herd) from place to place as they graze on grasses and shrubs or seek out water to drink. Thanks to their thick skin and sharp horns, rhinos have very few predators in the wild; even lions prefer gnawing on the bones of dead rhinos to attacking live ones.

The one predator they do have is man. Thanks to illicit and unlawful trade in rhino horns, rhino skin, and rhino meat, their numbers are steadily declining. Though the Southern White Rhino and the black rhino have staged a bit of a comeback, even their populations are 70%-80% lower than they were just three generations ago. But you can help change that!

The only right way to hunt rhino (My camera)

The only right way to hunt rhino
(My camera)

Instead of just putting on a silly horn and trampling random people for this year’s World Rhino Day, why not help scientists prepare an area for their comeback? The Gorongosa Park in Mozambique is looking to re-introduce rhinos. But before they do that, they need to know more about the ecology of the park. You can help them with this by looking at wildlife cameras and identifying the critters you see. To learn more, safari over to:
http://www.wildcamgorongosa.org/#/

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