rhinoceros

Introduction

rhinoceros, massive hoofed mammal of Africa, India, and SE Asia, characterized by a snout with one or two horns. The rhinoceros family, along with the horse and tapir families, forms the order of odd-toed hoofed mammals. The five living species, which once ranged widely across Africa and Asia, now consist of remnant populations in protected or remote areas. All are listed as endangered, with the exception of one subspecies of the white rhinoceros.

The skin of the rhinoceros is extremely thick, nearly hairless in most species, and deeply folded in some. The horns, arising from the skin, are made of keratin, a fibrous substance. The legs are stout and short and end in broad feet, each with three toes. Rhinoceroses are herbivorous, browsers or grazers according to the species. Most live near water and like to wallow in mud; all swim well. They have poor vision but good hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary animals, they feed by night and in the early morning and evening; they rest in shade during the heat of the day. They are often accompanied by small tickbirds (oxpeckers) that feed on parasites in their skin and, by their cries, alert them to danger. Although most rhinoceroses are placid animals, mothers fiercely protect their offspring.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology