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October 22, 2017

Nairobi Park Diary: White and black is grey

A baby white rhino having a joyful moment
A baby white rhino having a joyful moment

It is always a thrill to see rhino in the wild. Just a few days ago, I saw some white rhino peacefully grazing in the park. That reminded me of the exciting event in October 2009, when 10 white rhino were successfully translocated to Nairobi from Lake Nakuru National Park. By amazing coincidence, I just happened to be near the Hyena dam just after 18h00 on the evening of the first release. It was a fantastic sight to witness. I was also very fortunate to see the first white rhino calf born shortly after their arrival.

White rhino are different from black rhino in a number of ways. Firstly, white rhino are considerably larger but more placid than the moody and often aggressive black rhino. White rhino are grass grazers, while black rhino eat off scrubs and plants. There is absolutely no colour difference in the two sub-species; they are both grey. Their colour appears at times to vary according to whatever mud and sand type is in the area they live in, so they can also be reddish/brownish/yellowish/whitish at times, all because of the soil on their skin. The white rhino gets its name from the Dutch (Afrikaans) “Wyd”, meaning wide, due to their square mouths designed for grazing. It appears the English translators might have not heard correctly and perhaps thought the Dutch settlers said “white”. The black rhino is just named the opposite colour of white, and they have cleft lips designed for eating leaves from bushes.  

Imagine for a moment if we were to rename rhino types again. What would we call them? We could use our imaginations. However, the reality is that they are still called black and white rhino, even though they are actually grey!

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