The word rhinoceros is derived from Greek, and is a combination of two words – rhino (nose) and ceros (horn).

The black rhino is perfectly personified by this name as their smaller size makes their majestic horns seem even more pronounced.

What is the Black Rhino?

The black rhino is also known as the hooked-lip rhinoceros, and is one of two African rhino species. They are a member of the Big Five Animals of Africa, and have a fierce reputation among hunters and game rangers.

black rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Black rhinos on an open plain in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania | © Andrew Danckwerts (@andrewdanckwerts)

There are four subspecies of the black rhino. These are the; Southern Central black rhino, Eastern black rhino, South Western black rhino and the Western black rhino. Although the Western subspecies was officially declared extinct in 2011.

White Rhino vs Black Rhino

The black rhino is the smaller cousin of the white rhino. To most it is quite hard to tell the difference, but with a few small check points it becomes quite easy to distinguish the difference.

The most notable differences are their size, head size and lip shape – not their skin colour.

So why is it called the black rhino?

The exact origin of the name is unknown but it was thought to have come about as a means of distinction from the white rhino. The white rhino got its name from the word ‘wijd’, which means wide in Dutch, and refers to the species’ flat upper lip.


How big is the Black Rhino?

The black rhino is the smallest of the African rhinos, but is still quite large in comparison with most other mammals on the continent. They are thick and stocky, and are move with a menacing demeanour. Male (bull) and female (cow) black rhinos grow to the same height – around 5.3ft (1.6m) on average, and approximately 11.5ft (3.5m) long from head to tail.

Males are more solidly built than females and can grow to a weight of more than 2,800lbs (1,300kg). Females tend to top out at less than a tonne – between 1,500 and 2,000 lbs (700-900kg) on average.

A large adult black rhino | © Gaurav Kalbhor (@gauravkalbhorphoto)

Black Rhino Skin

The name black rhino is somewhat misleading. There is no difference in skin colour between the black and white rhino. They are both a brownish-grey colour, that varies slightly depending on location. Rhinos tend to wallow in dust or mud, and soil conditions will mark their skin to a varying degree.

They have thick-layered skin that helps to protect them from thorns and sharp grasses as they move through thickets and dense woodland areas.

Black rhinos are completely hairless except for on their ears, eyelashes and the tips of their tails.

How big are Black Rhino horns?

Black rhinos have two separate horns that grow out from the skin above their nose. Like human hair and fingernails, a black rhino horn is made from Keratin and continually grows throughout their lives.

A horn is made up of thousands of hair-like fibres tightly compacted together. The horn is very hard and can inflict a lot of damage when used in force.

Black rhino showing off its impressive horn | © Nikhil Sachania (@nikachania)

Horns vary in size, shape and angle in different areas and also between genders. Males tend to have thicker and slightly longer horns.

The front of the two horns is always larger, and ranges between 2 and 4 ft. (0.5-1.2m) in length.

What shape is the black rhino’s lip?

One of the species’ most distinctive features is its hooked lip. In contrast to the flat lip of a white rhino, black rhinos have a curved, or pointed upper lip that makes it easier for them to pull leaves and twigs off of trees and bushes. These prehensile lips have adapted to allow them greater control over movement and grabbing.

A black rhino shows off its prehensile lip


Black rhinos can be active both during the day and at night. They are least active during the hottest part of the day and will use this time to seek shade under a tree, or to relax in a mud wallow.