What You Need To Know...
We now only have 5 species of Rhino left on the planet, but some are easier to find than others...
There are only around 80 Sumatran Rhinos left in the wild, these are also known as the Asian Two-Horned Rhino and can be found in Sumatra and Borneo. These are the smallest of the Rhinos and are sometimes referred to as the pygmy rhino, but they are still large mammals and can live up to 40 years. They have two horns, one is a nasal horn typically between 15-25cm and the other is a stub horn.
Slightly bigger are the Javan Rhinos, once the most widespread Rhinocerous in Asia, there now are less than 60 left in the wild. The Javan Rhino is also known as the Lesser One-Horned Rhino as it only has one small horn, only reaching up to about 25cm. It’s also interesting to note that only the males have horns whilst the females do not. These Rhinos also possess folds of skin making them look quite different from their African relatives.
Next, we have our Black Rhinos, also known as the Hook-Lipped Rhino as their top lip comes to a distinctive point. These can be found throughout Sothern and Eastern Africa. Even though these are still critically endangered their population is much healthier than their Asian relatives and it is thought there are around 5500 in the wild. There are now only 3 subspecies of the black rhino as the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011. Both male and female can possess two horns varying in size, however, the female horns are often thinner and longer than the males.
Noticeably bigger are their cousins the White Rhinos, also known as the Square-Lipped Rhino as their lips are flatter. These Rhinos can be found mainly in Southern African countries and also Kenya and Uganda. The White Rhino has a much healthier population of around 20,00 however these are all Southern White Rhinos. Unfortunately, there are only 2 Northern White Rhinos remaining on the planet and both are female. Scientist are working very hard to harvest eggs to keep the subspecies alive but that’s a story for another day. Both male and female white Rhinos have two horns and the front horn can grow up to the incredible length of 2 meters. And these incredible creatures can live up to 50 years of age.
I’ll talk more about the African Rhinos after I’ve described the Indian Rhino also known as the Greater One-Horned Rhino. Even though their one horn generally only grows to about 60cm, these Rhinos can be about the same height and weight as White Rhinos. But like the other Asian Rhinos, they really do look very different from their African relatives! Their faces are much smaller and they have skin folds called plates, making them look like they are wearing a suit of armour. Built like tanks these Rhinos look truly pre-historic! Even though I have yet to see one in the wild, I was lucky enough to see one in Singapore in their night safari zoo, who was allowed to roam around in quite a substantial area free to browse and graze as it pleased. The Rhino was huge, it felt bigger than the little safari car we were in, it was incredible and I’d never seen anything like it before!
In the wild, there are around 3500 and they can mostly be found in Northern India and Southern Nepal. These huge creatures can also live up to 50 years old. Interestingly their scientific name is Rhinoceros Unicornis, and that is why some people refer to Rhinos as chubby unicorns, which I think is quite apt because they are magnificent, magical creatures!
The first time I really got to see and sit with a wild Rhino was in Nairobi National park. You can find both White and Black Rhino in Nairobi National Park, which is truly special. Both the White and Black Rhino can look quite similar from a distance, they are both grey and both possess two horns. If the Rhinos are still quite young, their front horn may not have grown substantially enough to distinguish them from a distance. However one of their main giveaways is the shape of their lips which can be seen through a good pair of binoculars. The White Rhinos have flatter lips because they are grazers, meaning they feed from the ground on things like grass. Because their head is lowered for most of the day they need very strong neck muscles making their heads bigger than the Black Rhinos.
The Black Rhino's lips are pointed meaning they can pluck food from trees and shrubs like leaves and fruit, so they are browsers. They find food higher up which means they don’t need as strong neck muscles to support their head. But Black Rhinos do like to be in amongst the shrubs and so they can be harder to spot and photograph. Whereas White Rhinos like to out in the open grasslands giving you a better chance of a clear shot.
Because Rhinos are so big, they can be a bit of a challenge to photograph. They also just eat for a lot of the day and then become more sociable at night. So what can you do to make your photographs of Rhinos look more interesting?
Well definitely try capturing their lips, horns and ears. But then why not try zooming right out and capturing their surroundings. Show where they live and how they interact with their environment. If you are lucky enough to find a calf, mummy will be very close by. Sometimes even daddy may be hanging around. If the calf is a couple of years old, daddy could start getting fed up and want mummy to himself which can often lead to some funny confrontation between the adults. That’s great to watch and capture.
I really enjoyed seeing the White Rhinos in Nairobi National Park against the backdrop of the city. What a unique environment, where the bush meets a bustling metropolis!
I was also lucky enough to also see two Black Rhinos on a different occasion in Nairobi National Park. It wasn’t possible to get really close to them at that time but one did lift his head high enough for me to get a shot of his pointed lips hovering over the bushes. (Photo 2)
Even though I didn’t see any Rhino on my first few safaris, mainly due to the poaching crisis and Rhino populations being wiped out in the areas we visited, I have been fortunate enough to have seen many Rhinos over the past couple of years. My favourite place to see Rhinos so far has to be Lake Nakuru in Kenya. What an incredible place that is, it's like being in paradise!
Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley Soda Lakes and more commonly thought of for the vast numbers of flamingo that visit it and neighbouring lakes at certain times of the year. However, there is so much more to Lake Nakuru. The landscape is just incredible and the fever tree forest is truly magical. You can see so many animals and birds at Lake Nakuru and they even have the wonderful Rothschild Giraffes which I will talk about in another post.
Unfortunately, about 1000 Rhino are killed every year in Africa, that’s about one every 10 hours. This has caused a huge Rhino horn trafficking crisis. And as we’ve seen the numbers are even worse in Asia!
With that in mind don’t be surprised if you visit a conservancy and the Rhinos have been dehorned. This is one way they are trying to keep the Rhinos safe as they hope poachers will be less likely to target Rhinos without horns. Whether that proves to be true, remains to be seen, but let's hope so!
Of course, we want the Rhinos to be as safe as possible and that must always be our first concern, but from a photographic point of view, this can seriously inhibit you if you want to build a portfolio of Rhino photographs. Be aware that some private conservancies, especially those in South Africa may ask you not to post any photographs of their Rhinos on social media. These Rhinos are their property and so you really should respect their wishes. After all, they are spending thousands of dollars each year on security and rangers just to keep them safe and alive!
If you do post an image make sure it has no geotagging metadata, and do not put the location of the Rhino on your post. Expect to see dehorned Rhino in conservancies as mentioned before, especially in South Africa. maybe use this as an opportunity to document the situation and what we sadly have to do to these creatures safe.
If you want to build a portfolio of Rhinos with beautiful big horns you may need to do some research and head to places such as Nairobi National Park, Lake Nakuru or Ol Pejeta in Kenya. Darmaland or EtoshaNational Park in Namibia. Hluhluwe-Umfolozi or the South of Kruger National Park in South Africa. Selous in Tanzania or Hwange in Zimbabwe. And the same goes for seeing Rhinos in Asia, do your research first.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of dedicated conservationist we can still enjoy seeing these chubby unicorns in the wild and in all their magnificent glory.
If you need any help or advice on where to go photography Rhino please send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a message me on Instagram, I’ll be happy to help!