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Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet & Feeding

Browsers (from Kingdon 1997; Merz 1991)

  • Diet
    • Eat leaves, twigs, and branches
      • Grass consumption typically very low, though long grass may constitute up to 30%-40% of the diet in some populations (Merz 1991)
        • White rhinos, in contrast, eat short grass and herbaceous plants, but no leaves/twigs from trees or bushes
    • Diverse, consume up to 220 place species
      • 99 woody shrubs
      • 102 herbs
      • 25 grasses
    • Diversity dependent on season and amount of rainfall
      • Quantity plant material consumed and diversity of species exploited variable
  • Hind gut digestion
    • As with horses and zebras
    • Digest food by bacterial fermentation in hind gut

Methods for determining diet (from Kingdon 1997; Merz 1991)

  • Characteristic dung reveals diet
    • Researchers examine fibrous plant remains in dung to understand an animal's diet
    • Characteristics of rhino dung
      • Dung composition
        • Rhino dung contains small, short twigs
        • Unlike elephant dung which contains longer, twisted pieces of woody fiber
      • Appearance of dung piles
        • 2 parallel grooves emanate from a pile of rhino dung
          • Pattern is produced by the rhino as it scrapes the dung pile with its back feet, flinging it away
        • Unlike elephant dung which is left in undisturbed piles

Feeding & Drinking

Food acquisition (from Kingdon 1997; Merz 1991)

  • The prehensile lip helps gather food
    • Enables exploitation of different plant resources compared to the diet of the white rhino
      • Refer to the above diet section
  • Horns provide access to some foods
    • Dig up roots
    • Break branches

Drinking (from Kingdon 1997; Merz 1991)

  • Frequency
    • Can go up to 5 days without drinking if food contains sufficient moisture
      • Found within a day's travel of water when only dry forage is available
  • Relatively tolerant of drought
    • Handle drought conditions well compared to many other animal species in the area
    • Not susceptible to poisonous tannins in plants that often increase during a drought

Browse on Various Plants

Two black rhino eating


two black rhinos eating hay



Black Rhinoceros at the Chester Zoo.

Image credit: © NIgel Swales from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Kingdon (1997)
Merz (1991)

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