By Eric Rugara
You have seen them in wildlife documentaries.
They remind you of an old guy – a tough one. Like an ex-boxer. A tough old geezer who could dangle you upside down by the ankle.
That ancient face. The two horns, one in front of the other. Those small, dark, beady eyes. Dark leathery skin. A body built like a bus – strong. And like many old men, they are short-tempered and half-blind.
I am, of course, talking about the black rhino. One of the most endangered species in Kenya. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists it as Critically Endangered, which is only one level better than Extinct in the Wild and two levels better than Extinct.
Habitats and ranges
Diceros bicornis aka the hook-lipped rhinoceros (as opposed to the square-lipped white rhinoceros) is native to eastern and southern Africa. You can find this rhino species in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, and Namibia.
The black rhino can be found in a variety of habitats. For instance, in Namibia, it thrives in the desert areas. In Kenya, it lives either in the wet forested areas of the country’s highlands or in the grassy savannas.
Its height varies between 1.3m and 1.8m.
Its weight ranges from 800kg to 1400kg.
It has two horns, with the one in front being longer and having a somewhat arced shape.
Though we call it the black rhino, black is not its actual color. Its skin may be dark yellow-brown, or it could be dark brown or dark gray.
Black rhinos are browsers. While grazers such as the white rhinoceros subsist on grass, browsers feed on leaves, twigs, branches, and the stems of shrubs. They also eat legumes and herbs.
Other characteristics and peculiarities
The black rhino has terrible eyesight, but its hearing is top notch. It also has an excellent sense of smell.
They are unpredictable and dangerous.
Most of them are solitary.
Black rhinos living in the same range are familiar with one another, but aggressive to strangers.
They are not very territorial, and their territories may intersect.
Male black rhinos sleep twice as much as the females.
No predator can dare attack an adult rhino – except crocodiles in exceptional circumstances. Their dangerous horns, their hulking size, and their tough skin make them unbeatable – which is perhaps why they don’t feel the need to form herds. They are safe even from the king of the jungle. Only an inexperienced young male lion would think of attacking an adult rhino – a mistake he will never repeat in his lifetime!
For such large beasts, they can really move – as much as 55km/h, running on their toes.
When mating, a male and a female will stay together for two to three days, sometimes weeks. During this period, they mate several times each day, with each copulation session lasting a half hour.
The gestation period is between 15 and 16 months.
The newborn calf weighs between 35kg and 50kg. After three days, it can begin to follow its mother wherever she goes. At two years, the calf is weaned.
Females sexually mature at ages 5 to 6, while with males it’s 7 to 8 years.
Absent of the poaching threat, black rhinos can live as long as 50 years.
Where can you see black rhinos in Kenya?
In the 1970s, we had 20,000 black rhinos in Kenya. Today, we have less than 600. That really makes you think, doesn’t it? The remaining rhinos are in sanctuaries, where they are safe from poachers.
As we noted earlier, the IUCN Red List of Threatened species classes the black rhino as Critically Endangered. In fact, poaching has so greatly decimated this magnificent beast that where thousands of rhinoceros used to freely roam this continent, today only about five thousand can be found in Africa. All thanks to wealthy individuals In Asia with a lust for exotic items crafted from rhino horn.
On the bright side
The good news though is that KWS has done a commendable job in the last few years to bring down poaching levels in the country.
As I write this, I am looking at a graph that maps rhino poaching statistics in Kenya from 2006 to 2015.
From a ridiculous high in 2013, when 59 rhinos were killed, KWS were able to bring down the number to 11 in 2015.
So there is hope that we just might win this war against poaching.