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Review of the European perception of the African rhinoceros

  • L. C. Rookmaaker (a1)

From 1515, the rhinoceros was well known in Europe through a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, showing an armour-plated animal from India with one horn on the nose and a spurious ‘Dürer-hornlet’ on the shoulders. When the first reports of the rhinoceros from Africa spread in the 17th century, it was not differentiated from the prototype, although it had a smooth skin and two nasal horns. Parsons in 1739 recognized differences between rhinos in Asia and Africa, but could not clearly separate them as two forms. Linnaeus based Rhinoceros bicornis on a skull from India with a second horn added by a trader. Camper in 1780 provided first anatomical proof for the existence of two species of rhinoceros distinguished by the number of teeth and horns. In the 19th century, travellers exploring the interior of southern Africa named rhino species according to the shape and size of the two horns, known as the Rhinoceros simus of Burchell, the unicorn of Campbell, the keitloa of Andrew Smith and the Mohoohoo of Oswell. Around 1900, with an increase of observations from the entire African continent, only two species were recognized, known as black rhino Diceros bicornis and white rhino Ceratotherium simum. The black rhino was first seen in captivity in the 1870s, the white rhino in 1944. Their status in the wild is precarious primarily because of illegal hunting for the horn. Continuous protection and management in the field together with research and documentation of their biology can still achieve their long-term preservation.

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All correspondence to: 4 The Grange, Lower Caldecote, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire SG18 9ET, U.K. E-mail:
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Journal of Zoology
  • ISSN: 0952-8369
  • EISSN: 1469-7998
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-zoology
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