© Dr. Tinus Laubscher


Basic Facts About Rhinoceroses

Rhinoceroses are the largest land mammals after the elephant. There are five species of rhinos, two African and three Asian. The African species are the white and black rhinoceroses, and both species have two horns. Asian rhinos include the Indian (or great one-horned rhinoceros) and the Javan, each with one horn, and the Sumatran, which has two.


Rhinos are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. White rhinos, with their square-shaped lips, are ideally suited to graze on grass. Other rhinos prefer to eat the foliage of trees or bushes.


Current estimated populations:

Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis): 4,880
White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum): 20,165
Sadly, the northern white rhino – a subspecies of the white rhino – has been completely wiped out. No animals remain in the wild, and with only 5 left in captivity, this subspecies faces certain extinction. Only the southern white rhino will remain.  
Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis): 140 - 210
Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus): 35 - 45
Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis): 3,624


Rhinos are found in parts of Africa and Asia. Their preferred habitat varies, from savannas to dense forests in tropical and subtropical regions. 

Black and white rhinos are found in Africa, primarily in the southern and eastern countries. The Sumatran rhino is found in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Javan rhino, once found in a number of Asian countries, today lives only in Indonesia and Vietnam.   Similarly, the Indian rhino once roamed across most of the Indian subcontinent, but today is only found in small sections of India and Nepal. 

Did You Know?

Rhinos use their horns not only in battles for territory or females, but also to defend themselves from lions, tigers and hyenas.


Males and females frequently fight during courtship, sometimes leading to serious wounds inflicted by their horns. After mating, the pair go their separate ways. A calf is born 14 to 18 months later. Although they nurse for a year, calves are able to begin eating vegetation one week after birth.


Rhinos rank among the most endangered species on Earth. Valued for their horns, they face a dire threat from poaching, which is rapidly pushing them towards extinction. Their horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as carved into jewelry, dagger handles and other trinkets.  Rhino horns have become so valuable on the black market that thieves are stealing them from museums and game trophies shot long ago.

Adding to the problem is the fact that for some species, the Sumatran rhino in particular, over-hunting has occurred for so long that the remaining population is broken into disconnected groups, unable to breed and to continue adding to the species genetic diversity. 

Did You Know?

Rhino horns are made of keratin – the same substance that makes up human hair and fingernails.

What Defenders is Doing to Help

The biggest threat to rhinos is poaching – they are killed for their horns, which are sold in the illegal wildlife trade. One way to confront this threat is to decrease the demand for these products. The U.S. is the second largest consumer of illegal wildlife products in the world, so decreasing the demand here at home can have a great impact for wildlife on the ground, even half a world away. Defenders is working on Capitol Hill to fight legislative efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act and the protections for rhinos that come with it. We also advocate for more funding for law enforcement to keep poached rhino horns from being smuggled into the U.S. 

In addition, we work on Capitol Hill to lobby for increased funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the inspection of wildlife shipments at our borders. Because this agency is underfunded, the U.S. does not have dedicated personnel to inspect shipments at every port of entry. As a result, a huge number of shipments each year – containing all manner of illegal wildlife products – make their way into the U.S. Our goal is to ensure the agency has sufficient resources to carry out their responsibility to prevent illegal wildlife products from entering or leaving the U.S. Defenders also raises awareness about this issue in order to reduce consumer demand for these products here in the United States