A rhino grazing in the savannah


Family: Rhinoceridae

Why are rhinos important?

Rhinos are a keystone species, meaning they play a vitally important role in shaping and maintain their ecosystem. By wallowing in mud and water, rhinos help create natural waterholes which other animals can utilise. They also eat a lot of plants and then recycle nutrients in their ecosystem through their dung and urine. Their dung is  an important habitat for numerous invertebrates, which, in turn, helps boost the populations of small birds and mammals who feed on insects.

Their feeding behaviour helps maintain savannah habitats and boosts the diversity of rainforests by creating openings in the canopy, allowing for new growth. Because rhinos have relatively large ranges, by protecting them and their habitat, it is possible to safeguard large numbers of other species.

Key Rhino Facts

A rhino illustration


There are five species of rhino: white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), black rhino (Diceros bicornis), Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornus), Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

A rhino illustration


Black rhino, Javan rhino, Sumatran rhino: Critically Endangered / white rhino: Near Threatened / Indian rhino: Vulnerable

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Black rhino: ~5,630* (3,142 mature individuals), increasing / Javan rhino: ~68* (~18 mature individuals), stable ️ / Sumatran rhino: ~80* (~30 mature individuals), decreasing / White rhino: ~18,064* (~10,080 mature individuals), decreasing️ / Indian rhino: ~3,588* (~2,100-2,200 mature individuals), increasing️

* According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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Black rhino – 2020; Javan rhino – 2019; Sumatran rhino – 2019; White rhino – 2020; Indian rhino – 2018

A rhino illustration



A rhino illustration


Grassland plains, savannah, woodland, in true tropical forests and in swamps

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Black and white rhino are only found in Africa. Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhino are found in Asia

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Weight – 600-2,700 kg, body length – 2-3.8m, shoulder height – 1-2m

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Poaching, habitat loss, disease

A photo of baby rhino standing next to its mother

Did you know?!

In Africa, an oxpecker bird can often be found hitching a ride with a white or black rhino. They have a mutually beneficial relationship. The oxpecker eats the insects and ticks that live on rhinos, while the rhinos, who have poor eyesight, can be alerted to danger – specifically humans – by the oxpecker. In Swahili, the oxpecker is known as the ‘Askari wa kifaru’, literally meaning the rhino’s guard.  

How to recognise a rhino

Rhinoceros belong to a group known as the perissodactyls, or odd-toed ungulates, which includes horses and tapirs. All species can weigh more than a tonne and have one or two horns.

Each rhino species has a slightly different appearance. Black and white rhinos are both actually grey but can be distinguished by their different lip types adapted due to their specific diets.

Black rhinos are browsers, feeding from bushes and trees rather than ground vegetation – they have a pointed or hook like lip to help them do this. The white rhino is a grazer with a square lip, adapted to eating grasses. The Sumatran rhino is unique as it has shaggy hair on its ears and body and is the only two horned rhino in Asia. Javan rhinos are recognisable by their skin folds which look like plated amour.


A mother rhino and calf

A mother rhino and calf

Rhino behaviour

Most rhino species lead largely solitary lives although they will sometimes share feeding grounds, water holes and wallows. The closest relationship is between a mother and her calf, who stay together between two and four years. As calves mature they leave their mothers and may join other females and their young temporarily, before living completely on their own. Males are territorial to varying extents, often marking their territory with dung.

Rhinos, especially black rhinos, can appear rather ill-tempered – particularly in areas where they are hunted or regularly disturbed. They have poor eyesight, which might explain why they sometimes charge without apparent reason. They have an extended vocabulary of growls, grunts, squeaks, snorts and bellows.

Wild rhinos have a lifespan of 30-50 years. Pregnancy lasts 15-16 months and the 63kg newborn calf relies on its mother’s milk for up to two years.

Where do rhinos live?

African rhinos, which includes the white rhino and the black rhino, are found in savannahs, forests and shrub habitats. The greater one-horned rhino lives in the grasslands, swamps and forests of India and Nepal. The Javan rhino is found in lowland tropical rainforest close to water sources. The Sumatran rhino, which also lives in Indonesia, inhabits tropical rainforests and mountain forests.


A black rhino

A black rhino © George Logan

What are the threats to rhinos?

Read more about the threats to the world's rhino population.

Illegal hunting for sport and the poaching of the animals for their horns, used in traditional Asian medicine, had led to a dramatic fall in rhino numbers. Poaching, combined with civil wars, has devastated the population of northern white rhino, leading to functional extinction, meaning there is no longer a viable population. Only two female northern white rhinos are known to survive in the world and the last male died in 2018.

Rhino habitats are encroached on by human population growth, agricultural development and domestic livestock. They are slow and sensitive breeders and when their land is severely fragmented populations become smaller and more isolated, making it even more difficult for them to reproduce. Non-native species are also reducing the quality of habitat, particularly for the Indian, Sumatran and the Javan rhinos. These species are already at incredibly at risk because their populations occur in only one or a few sites.

Due to the small populations of greater one-horned rhinos, Javan rhinos and Sumatran rhinos the risk of inbreeding is high.

Infectious diseases transmitted by livestock encroaching into protected areas presents a risk to small populations such as the Javan and Sumatran rhino.

What is Born Free doing to help rhinos?

Born Free works to protect rhinos on the ground, improve law enforcement, reduce demand for rhino horn through consumer education, and persuades governments to take action to enforce trade bans.
An adult and baby rhino walking together in Meru National Park

Rhino Conservation

In Meru National Park, Kenya, Born Free helps protect a critical population of white and black rhinos. We provide equipment and financial support to Kenya Wildlife Service rangers who work tirelessly to keep the rhinos safe from poaching. We also conduct our own anti-poaching patrols to prevent snaring and stop illegal activity.
A close-up image of a rhino

Ivory Trade

We campaign against the trade in rhino horn, and believe that legalising trade would increase demand and put rhinos at greater risk of poaching. We investigate routes used to move rhino horn from source countries to illegal markets, lobby governments to suspend exports of rhino trophies and live animals, and stop attempts to create a legal trade in rhino horn.
A captive rhino in a pen at a zoo, with people walking past

Zoos & Aquaria

Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals, including rhinos, in zoos and aquaria around the world. We encourage improvements to animal welfare legislation, and support improved care, while encouraging the public to consider directing their support away from the keeping of wild animals in zoos and instead towards protecting them in their natural habitats.
A rhino with large horn stands in dry grassland

Adopt a Rhino

Adopt a rhino with Born Free today, to help fund both our conservation and campaigning work to secure a better future for this critically endangered animal.

Adopt A Rhino