Rhinos, past and present
Text by Stefan Rust
Photos by Carsten von Lüttwitz
Pack Safari, your tour operator for Southern Africa, celebrates today’s World Rhino Day by raising awareness among our readers through an informative article as well as through offering a complimentary breakfast for tour guides with a talk on “Rhino, past and present”.
The rhino era began about 50 million years ago. 25 million years later, long before the modern humans, the largest mammal ever living on this earth evolved on the vast open grass savannas which stretched from Eastern Europe to what is today China. Namely the colossal 5 meter big and up to 20 tons heavy rhinoceros paraceratherium. This was the peak of the rhinoceros era. Other rhino species such as perissodactyls, amynodonts, metamynodons, hyracodonts, oligocene rhinos, chilotherium, diceratherium, elasmotherium thrived. The numbers of these prehistoric rhinos were drastically reduced by giant crocodiles, a dog and bear-like predator, and the emerging food competing elephant. But still a lot of rhinoceroses survived.
The Pleistocene ice ages with their radical temperature fluctuations, sometimes up to 10 degrees over one generation, in combination with human hunters were, however, the final neck blow for most of these rhinoceros.
From the long ago about 60 existing genera with several hundred kinds there are today only five species surviving of which four are classified as endangered and one species is classified as threatened. The 4 critically endangered species are the Javan, Sumatran, Indian (Greater one-horned) and Black Rhino. And the threatened one is the White Rhino.
Africa’s white rhinos are split into two subspecies, northern and southern. The population of the southern is in a fairly good shape, while the northern subspecies has been driven past the point of no return.
White Rhinos in Namibia
The other African species is the black rhino, consisting of seven or eight subspecies. Three are already extinct. Namibia leads with the largest wild black rhino population in the world.
Black Rhino in Namibia
The smallest of them all is the Sumatran rhino. Apart from the size, this species is unique as it is relatively woolly.
In the Javan rhino, only bulls have horns.
The Indian rhino survives in northern India and southern Nepal and shows a population growth of 21% in four years.
According to fossil finds the rhinoceros hunt in rough quantities started almost 700,000 years ago. In our modern time the product rhino horn in Asia and China is partly considered a status symbol and is sold there for expensive money, more expensive than gold. Of course, this tempts especially poorer people to get involved with rhino poaching. However, the superintendents are the big winners. And this means not only stopping poachers but also tackling a vast and powerful network of organized crime responsible for shipment and trade. It also means to drastically reduce the demand for the product by means of education.
If we succeed, at least some of the still existing species could be saved.