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Life-cycle of a black rhino

The photo above shows a young rhino calf, only 2 months old, closely following her mother through the brush of Tsavo East’s Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ). The little rhino in question has been named Lopuyapui, born to her mother Mrs Boit, she is a testament to the amazing work done by conservation organisations and the Kenya Wildlife Service as well as an encouraging sign of the growing population of Eastern Black Rhinos in Kenya.

Although it is difficult to know how many Eastern Black Rhinos are born each year, in 1989 the population in Kenya was fewer than 400 individuals, but has surpassed the 1000 mark this year. Tsavo, and specifically the IPZ, has become a beacon of success as an area for these critically endangered animals to thrive. The IPZ is specifically demarcated and highly monitored, allowing Eastern Black Rhino to grow and reproduce without the threat of poaching.

Black rhino life cycle

Once a rhino is born, it forms a close bond with its mother, staying in close proximity for approximately 2.5-3.5 years while navigating their shared home range. At around 2 months old, the rhino calf begins transitioning from milk to a diet of vegetation, including twigs, branches, leaves, and shrubs.

The bond between a mother and calf is the only significant bond a black rhino forms in its whole life, with these creatures living largely solitary, territorial lives, only meeting to mate and to fight for the right to mate.


If the young rhino is female, she will reach maturity at around 4-5 years. She will then establish a territory, ranging between 5.8-7.7 km2, this territory will include all her vital resources such as browsing vegetation, water, and, usually, a dominant bull. The territories of females are known to overlap with each other.

Communicating through a complex number of scent markers, including the use of communal defecation areas known as “dung middens”, she will be able to communicate with all the other rhinos in her area without ever needing to meet. Dung middens allow her to convey important information such as age, sex and state of oestrus while avoiding potentially mortal conflict with other rhinos.

Usually, at around 6-7 years old, females will have their first calf which is facilitated by a complex and often aggressive mating process. If you would like to learn more about how rhinos mate, follow this link.  The gestation period for black rhinos lasts between 15-16 months.

Male dominance

If the young rhino is male, they won’t reach maturity until around 12 years old. Before this, they will be tolerated in the territories of older, more dominant, bulls. However, once a young male reaches maturity they will need to challenge an older bull for the right to mate. This challenge begins  with a hostile takeover of a dominant bull’s “dung midden”  where the young bull will try to override the older bulls scent with his own. This communicates to the older bull, and the females in the territory, that the young male is attempting to assume control of the territory.

What follows, is an extremely aggressive and often fatal fight for dominance. In the wild 50% of natural male rhino deaths are as a result of fights, 30% for females. If the losing male is lucky enough to escape with their lives, they will be pushed from the territory into a smaller, less desirable, area where they will likely perish from lack of resources.

If you would like to learn more about the fascinating way black rhino’s communicate through the use of dung middens, follow this link for last week’s article.

The average lifespan for a wild black rhino is 35-40 years, with some research suggesting males live for a shorter period compared to their female counterparts, this is usually as a result of them losing their territories to younger males or losing their lives in disputes.

Conservation challenges

The Eastern Black Rhino’s aggressive and territorial nature poses significant challenges to conservation efforts. Limited habitats for these rhinos exacerbate the issue, as once a territory reaches its carrying capacity, fatal territorial disputes among the rhinos increase. It becomes crucial, therefore, to establish new, poacher-protected areas for these animals to inhabit and flourish.

Kenya has emerged as a leader in safeguarding the Eastern Black Rhino, making substantial progress by fostering the growth of robust core populations. Notably, the Intensive Protection Zone of Tsavo East serves as a stronghold for these rhinos. The strategy involves translocating these populations to new areas, exemplified by the recent relocation of 21 black rhinos to the Loisaba Conservancy from various regions in Kenya. This proactive approach enhances the species’ chances of survival by making sure the animal is thriving in multiple habitats across Kenya.

Tsavo Trust’s efforts

Although, Kenya has become a safe haven for black rhino, we cannot begin to relax to the dynamic threat of poaching. The situation is stark in South Africa, where, between January and June 2023, 231 black rhinos fell victim to poaching. This alarming statistic underscores the ongoing large-scale international demand for rhino horn, fuelling the poaching crisis in Africa.

This is why areas such as the Intensive Protection Zone in Tsavo are playing pivotal roles in the recovery of the Eastern Black Rhino. Central to Tsavo Trust’s mission is the focused commitment to monitoring and safeguarding these regions. Conducting up to 30 hours of monthly patrols, our dedicated pilots cover the area extensively. Furthermore, Tsavo Trust has been instrumental in introducing innovative tools such as camera traps, facilitating remote monitoring of rhinos. Additionally, our efforts include the implementation of vital solar panels, powering not only the cameras but also the communication radios essential for effective protection measures.

If you would like to help support Tsavo Trust’s efforts in monitoring and protecting the animal’s of Tsavo Conservation Area, as well as providing important employment opportunities for local people, please follow this link to see how you can help.

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