How to tell the difference: white rhino and black rhino tracks

Most of us know how to differentiate between black and white rhinos by sight. Square or round lip, smaller or bigger, a calf in front or calf behind the cow when running?

However, when walking through game reserves where both white- and black rhinos are present, it can be tricky to identify which specie a track belongs to.   Norman, our specialist tracking instructor, outlines some distinguishing features to look for when identifying rhino tracks:

Black rhino

  1. A black rhino’s track has three distinctive toes with large thick toenails. The toe in the middle is large and wide, with two smaller outer toes.  When compared to white rhinos, black rhino’s outside toes are smaller, narrower and situated slightly further apart (lower down) from the middle toe.
  2. Creases produced by the sole of the foot are evident in the track, however not as prevalent as white rhinos.
  3. Track size:  the front foot is approximately 24cm in length and the hind is 23cm long.
  4. Its heel has a shallow indentation, whilst the white rhino indentation is more distinct.
  5. The dung of a black rhino contains fragments of very small twigs, branches and leaves, usually bitten off at a 45-degree angle – it is a browser as opposed to its grazing cousin, the white rhino. Black rhinos are also well known for their tolerance of poisonous plants such as Tree Euphobia.
  6. They also create a territorial midden in which both genders may deposit droppings. However, the dominant bulls will kick and leave a long winding scrape of their dung using their hind legs.

White rhino

  1. The white rhino has three toes, with a middle toe that is very large compared to the outer toes. The outer toes are situated closer to the middle toe when compared to the black rhino. This is a subtle difference and one needs to be very observant to see it.
  2. In perfect substrate, the sole of the foot produces little block-shaped creases, which are unique to each rhino – the same as the fingerprint of a human being. This allows trackers to identify individual rhinos.
  3. Track size:  the front foot is approximately 29cm in length and the hind is 28cm long.
  4. If seen in the perfect substrate, its heel has a marked indentation showing two lobes.
  5. White rhinos tend to drag their bottom lips on the ground.
  6. They also walk slightly duck-footed, with their feet pointing slightly outwards.
  7. Dominant bulls leave urine and territorial scrape marks as they move. He will spray urine, defecates and then scrape the dung along the ground using his hind feet, leaving two long striking drag marks. Bulls make use of middens (latrines) throughout their territory which often contains large piles of old and fresh dung.

We hope that these descriptions will make your next trip to the bush more exciting, and inspire you to try and distinguish between a white and black rhino track.

About the Author:
Picture of Annemi Zaaiman

Annemi Zaaiman

Explore more

students in nature with clipboards

Leading the Way to Higher Education in Ecotourism

Are you an aspiring nature guide looking to develop your skills and expertise? Look no further than EcoTraining, Africa’s leading safari and wildlife training institution. EcoTraining has achieved a groundbreaking milestone by becoming the first Guide Training School on the continent to receive accreditation from the Council for Higher Education (CHE) in South Africa.
Let us explain why this is such a significant achievement for EcoTraining and the Field Guiding Industry.

Read more
bee on lavendar plant

Why Bees are Important?

Daily we hear about animals whose population numbers are in decline, but did you know that the humble Bees numbers are also in decline and they too are at risk of extinction?

Read more
arrow-marked babbler

The Magic of the Morning Chorus

Imagine yourself early in the morning in the middle of the South African bush; the sun is just about to rise, and the wildlife begins to wake up. You close your eyes and listen. What can you hear?

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.