Northern White African Rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum cottoni): Captive Relicts, Wild Extinctions

by DerdriuMarriner

White rhinoceroses actually are grey. Southern white rhinos benefit from conservation. But northern white rhinos may be extinct already in the wild and before long in captivity.

Northern white rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) currently are not among the Northern Hemisphere’s native or naturalized wildlife. They instead call home the Southern Hemisphere’s African continent. Nowadays they do not inhabit any part of Africa’s northern half.

Northern white rhinoceroses exist only as rare, tenuous, vulnerable relicts in captivity on the 90,000 acres (364.22 square kilometers) that form Laikipia district’s not-for-profit Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya.

There, they find among the wildlife conservancy’s permanent populations fellow African black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis). Color nevertheless has little relevance when differentiating the two African natives. Black and white rhinos respectively look brown-grey and grey.

The two rhinos nevertheless share imperiled existences. Northern white rhinos in particular totter toward extinction.


Thumbnail photo, CC BY 2.5, via PLoS ONE: photo of Suni (June 1980 - October 17, 2014), prior to translocation to Kenya, by Jan Robovský, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice, Czech Republic)


Rhinoceros simus cottoni: illustration by J. Terrier; lithography by J. Pitcher Ltd.

Male (left) with Female (right)
E.L. Trouessart, "Le Rhinocéros blanc du Soudan (Rhinoceros simus cottoni)" (1909), Plate XXIX, opp. p. 198
E.L. Trouessart, "Le Rhinocéros blanc du Soudan (Rhinoceros simus cottoni)" (1909), Plate XXIX, opp. p. 198


Common, non-scientific, popular names generally arise to emphasize an organism’s most striking distributional range or physical feature. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that northern rhinoceroses are described as white. Some wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals conjecture that the descriptive adjective derives from an English-speaking translator’s misunderstanding the Dutch word wijd as “white” instead of “wide.” They hypothesize Dutch-speaking settlers of South Africa contrasting:

  • The black rhino’s hook-lipped, narrow mouth;
  • The white rhino’s square-lipped, wide muzzle.

Other interpretations identify as the etymological inspiration:

  • Light-colored horns;
  • Whitened greyness from mud-bathing in bird dropping-littered, calcium carbonate-layered soils;
  • Widespread bio-geographies.

Whatever the real reason, all of the above-mentioned suggested explanations relay the grazing, wallowing essence of white rhinoceroses.


John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875): British zoologist is credited with assigning genus name, Ceratotherium, for White Rhinoceros.

undated photo
undated photo


Binomial (“two-name”), Greco-Latin, scientific names likewise attempt to highlight what makes organisms distinct and memorable. They can -- or cannot -- make sense in original or translated forms. They do emerge as particularly apt for northern white rhinoceroses. The genus name, Ceratotherium (“horn-beast”), draws upon Walsall-born British physician and zoologist John Edward Gray’s (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875) expertise. The species name, simum (“flat-nosed”), is thanks to Fulham-born English artist and naturalist William John Burchell (July 23, 1781 – March 23, 1863). The trinomial (“three-name”) nomenclature owes the subspecies name, cottoni, to London-born English geologist and naturalist Richard Lydekker (July 25, 1849 – April 16, 1915). The taxonomic ensemble stresses the rhino’s “nose-horn” (ῥῑνο- [rhino-] -κέρας [-keras]) quintessence.


William John Burchell (July 23, 1781 - March 23, 1863): English explorer and naturalist is credited with assigning species name, simum, to Northern White Rhino.

1854 portrait by Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821 - April 1895)
1854 portrait by Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821 - April 1895)


The distinctive facial features of the northern white rhino find their appropriate back-up in a huge physique. In fashion and interior design, grey gets viewed as elegant, slimming, and smooth. It perhaps gives refining touches to the rhino’s body which nevertheless retains the look of the world’s largest land animal after elephants (Elephas spp, Loxodonta spp). Northern white rhino specifics involve:

  • Elongated head;
  • Five-digit feet;
  • Fringed ears, tail tips;
  • Humped nape;
  • Long legs.

Northern white rhinos launch 40+-year life expectancies as one 145-pound (65.77-kilogram) newborn per 16-month gestation. A newborn may expect to:

  • Exist on a milky diet for 15 – 24 months;
  • Remain an only calf for 2 – 3 years before establishing independent home and territorial ranges.


July 10, 2012: a male Northern White Rhinoceros named Angalifu (1974 - December 14, 2014)

San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Escondido, northern San Diego County, Southern California
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Escondido, northern San Diego County, Southern California


Female northern white rhinos announce sexual maturity by delivering -- at 6.5 – 7.5 years -- their first-borns. Males contrastingly mature sexually at:

  • 8 years by demarcating scent-marked territories for mates, newborns, and subordinates;
  • 10 – 12 years through dominating offensive and self-defensive charging, horn-fighting, roaring.

Physical maturity necessitates back-horn lengths of 6.29 – 15.75 inches (16 – 40 centimeters). Adult females and males respectively showcase:

  • Front-horn lengths of 19.69 – 62.21 inches (50 – 158 centimeters), 19.69 – 47.24 inches (50 – 120 centimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths of 118.11 – 142.91 inches (300 – 363 centimeters), 141.73 – 149.61 inches (360 – 380 centimeters);
  • Shoulder heights of 65.35 – 69.69 inches (166 – 177 centimeters), 64.96 – 72.84 inches (165 – 185 centimeters);
  • Weights of 3,747.86 pounds (1,700 kilograms), 5,070.63 pounds (2,300 kilograms).


Northern White Rhino in ZOO Dvůr Králové, Czech Republic

March 23, 2008
March 23, 2008


Historical records document northern white rhino bio-geographies -- west of Africa’s Nile River -- in:

  • Centrafrique;
  • North Uganda;
  • Northeast Congo;
  • South Chad;
  • South Sudan.

Pre-historic rock art extends distributional ranges throughout east and north Africa. Historical and pre-historical epochs therefore give different perspectives on northern white rhino homelands. But they offer predictable responses to:

  • Biomes;
  • Habitats;
  • Niches.

Throughout physical and temporal space, northern white rhinos consistently require:

  • Dense, hilly shrublands to accommodate safe births and sustain viable populations;
  • Individual territories to amble and shelter over 20 – 40 square miles (50 – 100 square kilometers);
  • Moist savannas to graze medium-high and tall grasses;
  • Mud hollows to keep clean, lower temperatures, repel flies and ticks;
  • Water bodies to remain hydrated.


Native Range Map symbols: orange = Northern White Rhino (C.s. cottoni); green = Southern White Rhino (C.s. simum) ~

Former native range of Northern White Rhino formerly encompassed eastern Central African Republic, southern Chad, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern South Sudan, and northwestern Uganda.
Native Range Distribution Map for Northern and Southern white rhinoceri
Native Range Distribution Map for Northern and Southern white rhinoceri


Land and water abound throughout Africa. Natural resources are sufficiently plentiful to sustain all of the continent’s diverse life forms. Their allocation historically does not pose problems in wild contexts since no animal traditionally challenges northern white rhino life expectancies. Northern white rhinos indeed fear no wild predators -- not even hyenas (Crocuta crocuta, Hyaena spp) and lions (Panthera leo) -- since mothers charging, horn-fighting, and roaring protect the young. But in captivity, they nowadays have to re-learn tolerance of human presences. Those that questionably may survive in the wild make every effort to avoid human detection. Northern white rhinos in fact recognize flesh-, horn-, traditional medicine-, and trophy-poachers as far as 2,624.67 feet (800 meters) away.


Czech town of Dvůr Králové nad Labem and its zoo park, Dvůr Králové Zoo, which specializes in African fauna

eastern Bohemia, Czech Republic
eastern Bohemia, Czech Republic



The life cycles and natural histories of northern white rhinos still can be met in theory since parts of Africa remain remote and unchanged. But urban and wildland interfaces continue respectively to expand and shrink to:

  • The benefit of export-driven politico-economies;
  • The detriment of native fauna and flora.

The convergence points express the conflict-riddled interactions of:

  • Modernizing agro-industrialists;
  • Tradition-bound poachers.

They leave Africa’s air-, land-, and water-scapes fragmented and reconfigured into people-friendly, wildlife-unfriendly congregations and corridors. And yet there still may be time to save the half-dozen or less northern white rhinos of:

  • California’s San Diego Zoo;
  • Czech Republic’s Dvůr Králové Zoo;
  • Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Sustainability only requires:

  • Environmental education;
  • Governmental protection;
  • Scientific research;
  • Wildlife-loving activism.


Death Of Endangered White Rhino Puts Species On Brink Of Extinction ~ 34-year-old Suni, 1 of last 2 male Northern White Rhinos: found dead in enclosure on Friday, October 17, 2014; his birth in June 1980 at Dvur Kralove was heralded as hopeful for species

Published on YouTube on October 19, 2014 by WochitGeneralNews ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Last Chance for the Northern White Rhino ~ translocation from Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya ~

Uploaded to YouTube on April 14, 2010 by The Nature Conservancy ~ URL:

Sources Consulted


Anthony, Lawrence; and Spence, Graham. 2012. The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. London, England: Sidgwick & Jackson; and New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books.

Bass, Rick. 2012. The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Brumfield, Ben. 20 October 2014. “Countdown to Extinction: Only 6 Northern White Rhinos Left on Earth.” U.S. Edition > World > Africa. Atlanta, GA: Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

  • Available at:

Carson, Mary Kay. 2007. EMI and the Rhino Scientist. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

"Ceratotherium cottoni: Northern White Rhinoceros." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Ceratotherium simum: White Rhinoceros." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

  • Available at:

Dell’Amore, Christine. 20 October 2014. “Extremely Rare White Rhino Dies in Kenya -- His Kind Nearly Extinct.” National News > Animals. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

  • Available at:

Groves, Colin P. Groves; Prithiviraj Fernando; and Jan Robovský. 2010. "The Sixth Rhino: A Taxonomic Re-Assessment of the Critically Endangered Northern White Rhinoceros." PLoS ONE 5 (4): e9703. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009703. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

  • Available via PLOS ONE at:

Heller, Edmund. 1913. The White Rhinoceros. With thirty-one plates. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 61, Number 1, Publication 2180. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Holmes, Mary Tavener. 2007. My Travels with Clara. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Joubert, Beverly; and Joubert, Dereck. 2009. Rhino Rescue. Produced by Wildlife Films Botswana for National Geographic Channel. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Lydekker, R. (Richard). 1908. The Game Animals of Africa. London: Rowland Ward Limited.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Orme, Helen. 2007. Rhinos in Danger. New York, NY: Bearport Publishing.

Owen-Smith, Norman. 1975. "The Social Ethology of the White Rhinoceros." Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 38:337-384.

Owen-Smith, Norman. 2003. "White Rhinoceros: Ceratotherium simum." Pp. 261-262 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Volume 15, Mammals IV, edited by Michael Hutchins, Devra G. Kleiman, Valerius Geist, and Melissa C. McDade. Farmington Hills, M: Gale Group.

Spilsbury, Richard. 2004. Black Rhino: In Danger of Extinction! Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library.

Tibbitts, Alison. 1992. African Rhinos. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.

Tjader, Richard. 1910. The Big Game of Africa. New York and London: D. Appleton and Company.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:

Trouessart, Édouard Louis. 1909. "Le Rhinocéros blanc du Soudan (Rhinoceros simus cottoni)." Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (February 16, 1909): 198-200

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Van Gyseghem, R. 1984. "Observations on the Ecology and Behaviour of the Northern White Rhinoceros." Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 49:348-358.

Watt, E. Melanie. 1998. Black Rhinos. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn.

“White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum).” National News > Animals. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

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“White Rhinoceros.” What We Do > Priority Species > Rhinos > African Rhinos. Gland, Switzerland: World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved November 5, 2014.

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Northern White Rhinos at Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech zoo park, prior to translocation to Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy:

Top = Nabire, female aged 24 years; Bottom = Suni, male aged 27 years (June 1980 - October 17, 2014)
Colin Groves et al., "The Sixth Rhino" (2010), Figure 9
Colin Groves et al., "The Sixth Rhino" (2010), Figure 9
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World's Greatest Creatures by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

When Lawrence Anthony learned that the Northern White Rhino was on the very brink of extinction, he knew he had to act. If the world lost the sub-species, it would be the largest land mammal since the woolly mammoth to go extinct.
Northern White Rhino-themed books

Photo Jigsaw Puzzle ~ Northern White Rhino after initial release into wild during 1st stage of rehabilitation, June 2010: photo by Mark Cardwardine

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Rainbow rhinos: heather grey t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Rainbow Rhinos
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14k Gold Rhinoceros Charm for Charm Bracelet by The Magic Zoo ~ Available now via Amazon

Unique 14K gold jewelry design made in America by Magic Zoo Artist Merry Rosenfield, who notes: "I created this piece with respect and the hope that the wild rhino will continue to roam it's habitat for as long as the earth turns on it's axis."
rhino-themed jewelry

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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