1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rhinoceros

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RHINOCEROS, the designation for such perissodactyle (odd-toed) ungulate mammals as carry one or more horns on the head, and their extinct relatives (see Perissodactyla). Rhinoceroses are of large size and massive build, but have little intelligence, and are generally timid in disposition, though ferocious when wounded or brought to bay. The African species use the nasal horns as weapons, with which they strike and toss their assailant, but the Asiatic rhinoceroses employ their sharp lower tusks much as does a boar. Rhinoceroses are dull of sight, but their hearing and scent are remarkably acute. They feed on herbage, shrubs and leaves of trees, and, like so many other large animals which inhabit hot countries, sleep the greater part of the day, and are most active in the cool of the evening or even during the night. Some are found in more or less open plains, while others inhabit swampy districts. Members of the group have existed in both east and west hemispheres since the beginning of the Miocene period; but in America they all became extinct before the end of the Pliocene period, and in the Old World their distribution has become greatly restricted. They are, for instance, no longer found in Europe and North Asia, but only in Africa and in portions of the Indian and Indo-Malayan regions. Living rhinoceroses may be arranged in three groups: (1) With a single nasal horn, and very thick skin, which is raised into strong, definitely arranged ridges or folds. In this group there are two well-marked species. The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), the largest of the Asiatic forms, is the most widely known, from its being exhibited in zoological gardens. A famous rhinoceros presented to the Zoological Society of London in July 1864 lived till December 1904. This species stands from 5 ft. to 5 ft. 9 in. at the shoulder and is blackish grey in colour; the horn rarely exceeds a foot in length, but one in the British Museum measures 19 in. This species is now only met with in a wild state in the Assam plain, though it formerly had a wider range.

The first rhinoceros seen alive in Europe since the time when these animals, in common with nearly all the large remarkable beasts of both Africa and Asia, were exhibited in the Roman shows, was of this species. It was sent from India to Emmanuel, king of Portugal, in 1513; and from a sketch taken in Lisbon, Albert Dürer composed his celebrated but fanciful engraving, which was reproduced in so many old books on natural history. This species chiefly frequents swampy grass jungle and is fond of a mud-bath. According to General A. H. Kinloch, it is hunted by “tracking the animal on a single elephant until he is at last found in his lair, or perhaps standing quite unconscious of danger; or by beating him out of the jungle with a line of elephants, the guns being stationed at the points where he is most likely to break cover. In the latter case it is necessary to have reliable men with the beaters, who can exercise authority and keep them in order, for both mahouts and elephants have the greatest dread of the huge brute, who appears to be much more formidable than he really is.” The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is distinguished by its smaller size, and a different arrangement of the skin-folds (as may be seen by comparing figs. 1 and 2). The horn in the female is little developed, if not altogether absent. This species has a more extensive geographical range than the last, being found in the Bengal Sundarbans near Calcutta, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra and Borneo. The colour is uniform dusky grey. A female obtained in the Sundarbans stood 5 ft. 6 in. high. This species is more an inhabitant of tree-forest than of grass jungle, and its usual habitat appears to be in hilly countries.

Britannica Indian Rhinoceros.jpg

Fig. 1. — Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). This and the following illustrations are reduced from drawings by J. Wolf, from animals in the London Zoological Society's Gardens.


Britannica Javan Rhinoceros.jpg
Fig. 2. — Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus).

In the second section there is a well-developed nasal, and a small frontal horn separated by an interval. The skin is thrown into folds, but these are not strongly marked, and lower tusks are present. This group or genus is represented at the present day only by the Sumatran rhinoceros, Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus) sumatrensis, with its sub-species. It is the smallest of all the species, and its geographical range is nearly the same as that of the Javan species, though not extending into Java; it has been found in Assam, Chittagong, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. The colour varies from earthy brown to blackish, and the greater part of the body is thinly covered with hair, and the ears and tail are fringed. The average height of adults is from 4 ft. to 4 ft. 6 in. This species inhabits forests, and ascends hills to considerable elevations; it is shy and timid, but easily tamed even when adult. A specimen from Chittagong acquired in 1872 by the Zoological Society of London was named R. lasiotis, as it differed from the typical form by its larger size, paler and browner colour, smoother skin, longer, finer and redder hair, and the long fringe of hair on the ears. It is now recognized as a local race.

Britannica African Rhinoceros.jpg
Fig. 3. — Black or common African Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros (Diceros) bicornis).

To the third group or genus (Diceros) belong the two African rhinoceroses, which have two horns, the skin without definite folds, and no lower tusks. The black rhinoceros (Rhinoceros (Diceros) bicornis) is the smaller of the two, and has a pointed prehensile upper lip. It ranges through the wooded and watered districts of Africa, from Abyssinia in the north to the Cape Colony, but its numbers are yearly diminishing, owing to the opening up of the country. It feeds exclusively on leaves and branches of bushes and small trees, and chiefly frequents the sides of wood-clad rugged hills. Specimens in which the posterior horn has attained a length as great as or greater than the anterior have been separated under the name of R. keitloa, but the characters of these appendages are too variable for specific distinctions. The black rhinoceros is more rarely seen in menageries in Europe than either of the Asiatic species, but one lived in the gardens of the London Zoological Society from 1868-1891.

Lastly we have the white — Burchell's, or square-mouthed — rhinoceros (Rhinoceros (Diceros) simus), the largest of the five, and differing from the other species in having a square truncated upper lip. In conformity with the structure of the mouth, this species lives entirely by browsing on grass, and is therefore more partial to open countries or districts where there are broad grassy valleys between the tracts of bush. In its old haunts in the south it is practically extinct; but ten were reported from a reserve in Zululand in 1902. A detached colony exists, however, near Lado, on the Upper Nile. No specimen of this species has ever been brought alive to Europe. Mr F. C. Selous gives the following description of its habits: —

“The square-mouthed rhinoceros is a huge, ungainly looking beast, with a disproportionately large head, a large male standing 6 ft. 6 in. at the shoulder. Like elephants and buffaloes they lie asleep during the heat of the day, and feed during the night and in the cool hours of early morning and evening. Their sight is very bad; but they are quick of hearing, and their scent is very keen; they are, too, often accompanied by rhinoceros birds, which, by running about their heads, flapping their wings, and screeching at the same time, frequently give them notice of the approach of danger. When disturbed they go off at a swift trot, which soon leaves all pursuit from a man on foot far behind; but if chased by a horseman they break into a gallop, which they can keep up for some distance. However, although they run very swiftly, when their size and heavy build is considered, they are no match for an average good horse. They are, as a rule, very easy to shoot on horseback, as, if one gallops a little in front of and on one side of them, they will hold their course, and come sailing past, offering a magnificent broadside shot, while under similar circumstances a prehensile-lipped rhinoceros will usually swerve away in such a manner as only to present his hind-quarters for a shot. When either walking or running, the square-mouthed rhinoceros holds its head very low, its nose nearly touching the ground. When a small calf accompanies its mother, it always runs in front and she appears to guide it by holding the point of her horn upon the little animal's rump; and it is perfectly wonderful to note how in all sudden changes of pace, from a trot to a gallop, or vice versa, the same position is always exactly maintained. During the autumn and winter months (i.e. from March to August) the square-mouthed rhinoceros is usually very fat ; and its meat is then most excellent, being something like beef, but yet having a peculiar flavour of its own. The part in greatest favour among hunters is the hump, which, if cut off whole and roasted just as it is in the skin, in a hole dug in the ground, would, I think, be difficult to match either for juiciness or flavour.”

(W. H. F.; R. L.*)