Nov 30, 2012


I'm just on a roll lately.  Yesterday I finished my lineup of eight bears.  Today I finished my lineup of five rhinos!  Rhinos are totally fascinating and totally weird.  Also, almost all of the species are about to go extinct, which is really sad.

But, again, before the drawings, her are some facts about rhinos:
  • The name, "rhinoceros" comes from the Greek ῥῑνόκερως, meaning (go figure) nose-horn.
  • The closest relatives of rhinos are tapirs and horses.
  • The woolly rhino, one of the last of the great ice age megafauna, probably survived until around 8,000 years ago.  When it died out, humans had just started to get the hang of agriculture.
  • Rhino horns are made, not of ivory or bone, but of keratin, the same material as your hair and fingernails.
  • The first rhino to be seen in Europe since ancient times went on tour in 1515.  It died in a shipwreck at sea while being transported to its next stop, but not before being sketched for posterity.  It took over two hundred more years for another rhinoceros to make it there.

And, so, here's the lineup of the five extant species of rhinoceros:

Indian Rhinoceros

The Indian, or "Great One-Horned", Rhinoceros lives in (surprise!) India.  It and the white rhino vie for the top spot as the biggest species.  It is the second largest species in Asia, behind the Asian elephant.  It is notable for its skin folds, which look like armor.  It's estimated that around 1910 there were only around 100 left in the world.  There are now around 3,000.

Javan Rhinoceros

The Javan Rhinoceros (or "Lesser One-Horned Rhino") once lived throughout the large Indonesian islands and southeast Asia, but it is now the rarest large mammal in the world, with an estimated population of only around forty individuals.  It is part of the same genus as the Indian rhino and looks very similar, though it is quite a bit smaller.  There were formerly three distinct subspecies, but the Indian population died off in the 1920s, and the last of the Vietnamese population was killed by a poacher in 2010.

Sumatran Rhinoceros

The Sumatran Rhinoceros is the most distinct of the five species.  It is by far the smallest, and it is easily identified by its reddish coloration and the shaggy fur on its body.  It is most closely related to the extinct woolly rhinos of the Ice Age.  Like the Javan Rhino, it is also critically endangered, with a wild population estimated at around 200 individuals.

Black Rhinoceros
The Black Rhinoceros is one of the two African rhinos.  Its name is actually somewhat of a mistake, as explained below with the White Rhinoceros.  It was once found across western and southeastern Africa, but by the past decade, its numbers had dwindled (through hunting) from the hundreds of thousands to around 2,000.  The western subspecies was declared extinct in 2011.

White Rhinoceros
The White Rhinoceros is actually mistakenly named.  "White" is a mistaken English transliteration of the Afrikaans word "wijd" (meaning "wide"), a reference not to the animal's color, but to its wide upper lip, used for grazing.  This, as opposed to the black rhino's pointed upper lip, used for browsing leaves off trees.  Because it was deemed white, the other species in Africa was called 'black'.  White rhinos are one of the few success stories in the rhino world, having been hunted almost to extinction, but with a population now over 17,000.  However, the northern subspecies (which some have argued is its own distinct species) is almost certainly extinct in the wild, with only captive breeding programs maintaining its existence.

The full lineup

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