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the web of life in southern Africa

Diceros bicornis (Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Black rhinoceros)

swartrenoster [Afrikaans]; Spitzmaulnashorn [German]; rhinocéros noir [French]; faru [Swahili]; umkhombo, ubhejane onzima, umkhombo onzima [isiNdebele]; umkhombe [isiXhosa]; ubhejane, isibhejane [isiZulu]; makgale [Sepedi]; tshukudu, tshukudu e molomo wa haka [Sesotho]; bodilê, tshukudu, bodilênyane, kenenyane [Setswana]; chipenbere, nhema [Shona]; sibhejane [siSwati]; mhelembe, mhelemba [Xitsonga]; thema, thema i re milomo mitshena [Tshivenda]; sukulu [Lozi]; unshunguzu [Yei]; !Nabas [Nama] [Damara]; ngara [Herero]; khi [San]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Paraxonia > Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates) > Family: Rhinocerrotidae (rhinoceroses)

Diceros bicornis (Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Black rhinoceros)

Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Diceros bicornis (Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Black rhinoceros)

Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Dave Scott ©]

Diceros bicornis (Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Black rhinoceros) Diceros bicornis (Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Black rhinoceros)

Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Thornybush Game Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Hook-lipped rhinoceros, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]


The Hook-lipped rhinoceros is also frequently called the black rhino, because of its darker grey colour. There is no large hump on the neck and the head is shorter than the square-lipped rhino, ending in the characteristic triangular prehensile “hooked” upper lip. There are two horns above the nose usually the front horn is longer. The rhinoceros gets its name from the Greek meaning “nose-horn”. The rhino’s horn has no core and consists of a matted aggregation of hair-like keratin fibres, seated on a roughened area of the nasal region of the skull. Short stout limbs support the animal’s massive weight and the feet have 3 digits. The rhino is one of Africa’s “Big Five”.


Height at shoulder 1.6 m; weigh range 800 – 1100 kg

Dental formula

I C P M = 24

Distribution and habitat

Previously had a wide distribution throughout the southern African subregion but its natural distribution is limited to some Zululand reserves. Its distribution is now limited to reserves and game farms. It occupies a wide range of habitats that provide shrubs and trees of up to 4m in height with dense thickets for resting.

General behaviour

Rhino’s have poor vision and are unable to see a motionless person at 30 m. However, their sense of smell is excellent. The black rhino has a reputation for being bad-tempered and unprovoked aggression. Because of their poor eye sight their charges are usually blind rushes intended to scare of intruders. Although they appear cumbersome, for large animals they are surprising agile and fast.

Rhinos are dependant on upon water, although the hook-lipped rhino can go for several days without water in more arid habitats. They also use waterholes for wallowing, and coat themselves in mud. It is thought that the mud serves to protect the animal against biting insects. Although rhino’s have thick hides, the blood vessels lie just below the thin outer layer.

Male rhino’s are solitary and territorial. While usually solitary female black rhino will acquaint themselves with other females that share their home range. Small groups may collect together at water sources.


Hook-lipped rhinos are browsers, feeding on twigs and shoots. Their prehensile upper lip is ideal for grasping the branches and twigs of woody shrubs and trees.


The calves are born after a gestation period of 15 months. Calves are vulnerable to attack by many predators including lions and hyenas. The hook-lipped rhino calf walks alongside or behind its mother. They will stay with their mother’s for 2-3 years, until shortly before the birth of the next offspring when she will drive them away.

Life span

40 years


 The rapid decline in numbers of both African rhino species is a result of extensive poaching for their horns. The horns are sold on the black market, most go to Yemen and Asia. In Yemen the horns are carved into dagger handles, and in Asia they are ground for use as traditional medicine. The best chance for survival seems to lie in armed protection, their attraction in terms of tourist revenue and protection in nature reserves and parks. Their conservation status is critically endangered and all rhino are listed on CITES Appendix 1.