New evidence, based on genetic data obtained, is now pointing towards the possibility of a new species of Rhino. Scientists from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology in Australia, the Centre for Conservation and Research in Sri Lanka and the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, the University of South Bohemia in the Czech Republic, believe they may have uncovered a new species of rhino, long considered by biologists to be a subspecies.

In a paper posted on PLoS ONE, an international peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication, scientists say that evidence has shown the northern white rhino to be a distinct species from the more commonly known southern white rhino.

If these findings are accepted by the scientific community, it could impact northern white rhino conservation, as the species would, overnight, become the world’s most endangered rhino species with less than 10 surviving.

According to researchers, the skull of the northern and the southern white rhino is easily distinguishable. In fact, the animals can be differentiated simply by looking at them. In addition, the genetic study found that the northern and southern white rhino diverged around a million years ago.

Currently, 8 northern white rhinos survive, however, 4 of these are no longer able to breed. The last 4 that can breed were transferred from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009 to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya, where they are guarded around the clock.

Conservationists now hope that by providing these 4 (2 males and 2 females) with their natural habitat at the conservancy, they may be able to breed and perhaps, like the success story of the Southern rhinos, stand a chance of salvaging a species on the brink of extinction. Rhinos are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

The southern white rhinos are common in most of Kenya’s national parks. Alongside their black rhino relatives, they form part of the famous Big Five of the African wildlife adventure.

Apparently, the names of the white and black rhino species have nothing to do with the colour of their coats which range from brown to dark grey for both species. Several explanations have been given about the origin of these misnomers.

The most popular of these is that the white rhinoceros derives its name from ‘weit’ which is the Dutch word for ‘wide’, on account of its wide, square mouth. On the other hand, the black rhino – so called in order to distinguish it from its ‘white’ counterpart – has a triangular, pointed mouth.

Do you know of any other theories on how these animals got their names or any other thing that comes to mind about this story? Do share by commenting below.