Few animals are as awe-inspiring as a rhinoceros.
The giant ungulates are truly wonders of Creation and are also among the planet’s most critically endangered animals.
In part 1 of our series we established that these animals are not only dwellers of savannah and desert but also inhabit forest and mountainous areas in Africa.
Africa has two species, the black and white (square-lipped) rhinoceros and of those two the black had the largest historical range.
That wide-ranging distribution included several now extinct subspecies including the western black rhinoceros which the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) deemed extinct in 2011 after a search in heavily-forested Cameroon proved fruitless.
The eastern black rhino is often found in highland forest and like all rhinos will inhabit savannah as well.
Like all black rhinos, these are browsers which mean they prefer eating from bushes, trees and other woody vegetations whereas grazers eat grass and low vegetation. Forests offer ample grazing opportunties as well as cover.
That’s why account for exact black rhino numbers in forested nations is challenging. Helicopter, drone and airplane surveys are not as effective as they are on the savannahs.
White rhinos prefer open areas more than their darker-colored and smaller cousins but will spend time in forested areas, especially if they find a good mud hole or trees to use for a rubbing post. (To scractch that itch.)
Sumatran rhinos are even more critically endangered than their African cousins with fewer than 100 left in the wild according to Save The Rhino International (STI). These rhinos are the smallest of all but they are incredibly agile.
Sumatran rhinos can run fast and are very agile. They climb mountains easily and can negotiate very steep slopes and riverbanks. With the protection provided by the horns and rims of hard skin and cartilage on nose and head, they can easily break through the densest vegetation, leaving round tunnels
These Javan rhino is in even worse shape in terms of population wtih only single population of around 70 animals believed to exist in the wild. These animals which currently live in dense forest once had an incredible distribution according to STI.
Javan rhinos used to live in a variety of tropical landscapes, both lowland and highland, from the mangroves of the Sunderbans in India and Bangladesh, the mountains of southern China, to the sub-montane shrubs on the highest volcanoes of Java. The Javan rhino probably had a wider ecological range than either its larger relative, the greater one-horned rhino, or its compatriot, the Sumatran rhino.
The reason for this series is to give a look at overlooked aspects of African rhinos and their range and to bring awareness to those forest-dwellers in Asia that are far closer to extinction than even those in Africa.
For whatever reason they get almost no attention from the corporate wildlife media. This is our way of shining some light on a dark spot in wildlife conservation.
In the next and final article in the series we will examine an Asian rhino that is on the rebound and look at some conservation project that could radically change the trajectory of rhino populations in Africa for the better.