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White Rhinoceros

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The white rhinoceros, white rhino or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is the largest extant species of rhinoceros. It has a wide mouth used for grazing and is the most social of all rhino species. The white rhinoceros consists of two subspecies: the southern white rhinoceros, with an estimated 19,682–21,077 wild-living animals in the year 2015, and the much rarer northern white rhinoceros. The northern subspecies has very few remaining individuals, with only two confirmed left in 2018 (two females: Fatu, 18, and Najin, 29), both in captivity. Sudan, the world’s last known male northern white rhinoceros, died in Kenya on 19 March 2018.

Popular albeit widely discredited theory of the origins of the name “white rhinoceros” is a mistranslation from Dutch to English. The English word “white” is said to have been derived by mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijd”, which means “wide” in English. The word “wide” refers to the width of the rhinoceros’ mouth. So early English-speaking settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “wijd” for “white” and the rhino with the wide mouth ended up being called the white rhino and the other one, with the narrow pointed mouth, was called the black rhinoceros. Ironically, Dutch (and Afrikaans) later used a calque of the English word, and now also call it a white rhino. This suggests the origin of the word was before codification by Dutch writers. A review of Dutch and Afrikaans literature about the rhinoceros has failed to produce any evidence that the word wijd was ever used to describe the rhino outside of oral use.

An alternative name for the white rhinoceros, more accurate but rarely used, is the square-lipped rhinoceros. The white rhinoceros’ generic name, Ceratotherium, given by the zoologist John Edward Gray in 1868, is derived from the Greek terms keras (κέρας) “horn” and thērion (θηρίον) “beast”. Simum is derived from the Greek term simos (σιμός), meaning “flat-nosed”.

The white rhinoceros of today was said to be likely descended from Ceratotherium praecox which lived around 7 million years ago. Remains of this white rhino have been found at Langebaanweg near Cape Town. A review of fossil rhinos in Africa by Denis Geraads has however suggested that the species from Langebaanweg is of the genus Ceratotherium, but not Ceratotherium praecox as the type specimen of Ceratotherium praecox should, in fact, be Diceros praecox, as it shows closer affinities with the black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis. It has been suggested that the modern white rhino has a longer skull than Ceratotherium praecox to facilitate consumption of shorter grasses which resulted from the long-term trend to drier conditions in Africa. However, if Ceratotherium praecox is in fact Diceros praecox, then the shorter skull could indicate a browsing species. Teeth of fossils assigned to Ceratotherium found at Makapansgat in South Africa were analyzed for carbon isotopes and the researchers concluded that these animals consumed more than 30% browse in their diet, suggesting that these are not the fossils of the extant Ceratotherium simum which only eats grass. It is suggested that the real lineage of the white rhino should be; Ceratotherium neumayriCeratotherium mauritanicumC. simum with the Langebaanweg rhinos being Ceratotherium sp. (as yet unnamed), with black rhinos being descended from C. neumayri via Diceros praecox.

Recently, an alternative scenario has been proposed under which the earliest African Ceratotherium is considered to be Ceratotherium efficax (now synonymous with C. mauritanicum), known from the Late Pliocene of Ethiopia and the Early Pleistocene of Tanzania. This species is proposed to have been diversified into the Middle Pleistocene species C. mauritanicum in northern Africa, C. germanoafricanum in East Africa, and the extant C. simum. The first two of these are extinct, however, C. germanoafricanum is very similar to C. simum and has often been considered a fossil and ancestral subspecies to the latter. The study also doubts the ancestry of C. neumayri from the Miocene of southern Europe to the African species. The ancestor of both the black and the white rhinos was likely a mixed feeder, with the two lineages then specializing in browsing and grazing, respectively. The oldest definitive record of the White Rhinoceros is during the mid-Early Pleistocene at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, around 1.8 Ma. Wikipedia

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An image of a White Rhinoceros

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Click the link below for images:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=white+rhinoceros&form=HDRSC2&first=1&tsc=ImageBasicHover

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christy B
    Oct 13, 2022 @ 04:24:38

    Thanks for all the info!

    Like

    Reply

    • Mohenjo
      Oct 13, 2022 @ 05:36:37

      You are welcome, it is a shame that such a beautiful animal is killed for its horn!

      Like

      Reply

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