A tale of two tails: the difference between black and white rhino

To get back to basics, black and white rhino are different. The major difference is in the mouth. The black rhino is adapted to eating leaves and has a mouth to do so – the hooked or “prehensile” top lip is used to select the branches or forbs that it wants to feed on. The white rhino on the other hand is a lawnmower and has a mouth exactly like a finely-tuned lawn mowing machine, which is perfectly adapted to eat grass.

There is, however, another side to this story – the backside! Animals use their tails as “beacons” for young or other members of their collective pack, pride, or crash to follow, and rhino are no different. The calves of the white rhino tend to run in front of them so not so much tail ‘antenna’ is required, but look closely and you will see that the tail of a white rhino is more like that of a domestic pigs and has a little twist. A black rhino’s calf follows her and she therefore needs a good antenna and, much like warthogs, when black rhino run, their tails stick up straight into the air. The reason a warthog does the same is not because they run with their eyes closed, nor because their skin is tight so it pulls their tails up (contrary to popular belief…!) but simply as a signal for the rest of the sounder to follow.

On Kwandwe, we are very fortunate to see black rhino regularly. This endangered species thrives in the Great Fish River Valley and sightings of these animals are regular and awe-inspiring. Black rhino are born to fight not flight, so sometimes you will have the great fortune of a mock charge, full of huffing and puffing. If you are ever unsure which rhino you have had the pleasure of spotting, look for the tail when they turn and trot off. If it’s straight up in the air, just like our warthog friends, there should be no doubt as to which creature just made you slightly weak at the knees!