Food For Rhino


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Food For Rhino

There are five species of rhinoceros alive today, each of which has its own unique physiological and environmental differences — but while there may be some variance in their diets, there are some key characteristics that all species share. Rhinos are generalist herbivores, which means that their diet consists of a variety of different plant matter. The black rhino, for instance, has been witnessed consuming 32 of the 34 available plants in its environment. Diversity is important to the diet of the rhino, but this enormous herbivore also needs to consume a large amount of food just to stay nourished. While actual intake can vary depending on the species, some rhinos need to consume over a hundred pounds of grass a day to maintain their weight and nutrition.

In terms of dietary habits, rhino species fall into one of two categories. Grazers keep their heads down and primarily feed on grasses with a preference for shorter grasses. Indian and white rhinos are both classified as grazers. Black, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos all fall into the category of browsers. Rather than feed on grasses, they instead focus their attention on food that’s above eye level — with preferences including twigs, fruit, and leaves. Despite the variety of their diets, rhinos do have taste preferences — and a sweet tooth in particular — a fact that’s evidenced by the fact that they’ve been known to destroy farmland in pursuit of fruits. Browsers will graze and vice versa when necessary, and most species will resort to eating roots and bark when opportunities are scarce. Roots also offer hydration during dry seasons and droughts.

What Do Rhinos Eat in Captivity vs. the Wild?

Rhinos in captivity are typically fed on a diet of alfalfa and soy out of practical and financial necessity. Unfortunately, research into the feeding habits of the endangered Southern White Rhinoceros indicates that a diet like this could be responsible for infertility in females of the species. In the wild, these species may graze on dozens of different types of plants in a typical year, and chemicals called phytoestrogens are a regular part of their naturally occurring vegetarian diet. Without phytoestrogens, female rhinos often have trouble producing enough hormones of their own to support healthy reproductive cycles.

White Rhino vs. Black Rhino

White and black rhinos constitute the two species indigenous to Africa — and while they look quite similar, there are two major distinctions between them. The first is size. White rhinos are significantly larger, with an adult white rhino weighing an average of up to 5,000 pounds and the average black rhino weighing just half that. That’s reflected in their diets as well. A white rhino will often consume a hundred pounds of grass or more in a day, while black rhinos will consume just half that. The other big difference comes down to feeding habits. Black rhinos are browsers while white rhinos are grazers.

Rhinos eat a diet that includes:

  • Grasses (roughly 40% of a grazer’s diet)
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Roots
  • Bark
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Alfalfa and soy (in captivity


The black rhino and the white rhino diets are very different. That’s partly because of the black rhino’s prehensile lip — basically a pointy lip that allows him to tear and pick up stuff easily. The white rhino, on the other hand, has more square lips, so he can’t break things to eat and as a result can’t consume harder stuff like branches. Both types of rhino are affected by the seasons, with their diets changing depending on what’s available around them.

Black Rhino

The black rhino’s diet consists of just about 40 percent grass. The rest of his diet is composed of twigs, leaves and even small branches. Although black rhinos will pick up things to eat from the ground, they will also take small branches and twigs, as well as fruits, directly from trees and shrubs. In some cases, black rhinos will dig up some edible roots using their horn. The amount of food consumed depends on the season — during rainy season, the greenery is more abundant so the black rhino might eat more or choose slightly different things than when everything’s dry. Black rhinos can go for several days without water if they’re eating lots of grass and leaves. However, if they’re eating lots of twigs and branches, they can only go one day without drinking.

White Rhino

Because they don’t have a pointy lip to help them break twigs or dig for roots, the white rhino eat basically just short grass and some leaves. Rhinos are considered grazers, because they will eat constantly throughout the day, rather than having set meals. White rhinos can go up to five days without drinking, because they get some moisture from the grass they eat.

Other Differences

White rhinos tend to walk around with their head down, close to the ground. They do this to take advantage of the grass as they walk around, grazing non-stop. Black rhinos walk with their heads up because much of their food comes from trees.

Diet in Captivity

Rhinos in zoos are fed a diet that consists mainly of soy and alfalfa. Although they can digest both of these things, they are not what they would naturally eat in the wild. The change in diet might be responsible for the low birth rate of rhinos in captivity, according to researchers from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Soy in particular causes a direct effect on phytoestrogens, a type of estrogen that affects the reproductive cycles of animals.

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