1950 play by Eugene Ionesco

Rhinoceros is a parable, of course, about people succumbing to their base instincts to conform. When Ionesco wrote it, in the late 1950s, he was reacting to the then quite recent spectres of Nazism and Facism. The enemy that Ionesco exposes in Rhinoceros is always at hand, because it is us. The play is deceptively absurd and unreal in its early scenes, featuring a logician who "proves" that a dog is actually a cat. Theatre of the Absurd, Also see: Samuel Beckett

Other plays by Ionesco include:

Sources: Ionesco, Eugene, "Four Plays", Grove Press, NY, 1958. http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc19.html

Last Updated 01.26.03


Mammalia (mammals)






Ceratotherium simum (white rhinoceros)
Dicerorhinus sumatrensis (Sumatran rhinoceros)
Diceros bicornis (black rhinoceros)
Rhinoceros sondaicus (Javan rhinoceros)
Rhinoceros unicoris (Indian rhinoceros)

The word used to describe this huge but docile animal, rhinoceros, comes from the Greek words for "nose" (rhino) and "horn" (ceros). There's a lot more to a rhino than its horn, which usually grows to an average length of 30-45cm, though it is clearly the most distinguishing feature on just about all rhinos.

Rhinos are loosely related to horses, and more closely related to tapirs, with whom they share their characteristic thick, leathery skin, their prehensile lips, and their tendency to spray very powerful streams of urine at predators or nuisances when in distress. (It seems Webby's info is, not surprisingly, out of date.) Humans are the only creatures above the rhino on the food chain, although various parasites and stinging insects make their homes in and on rhinos. In the wild, they usually only fight with each other. A bull rhino must fight for dominance to win breeding rights -- otherwise they're pretty laid-back creatures. In adulthood, the horn may look frightening, but it's usually used only for digging holes in the ground, gouging at particularly thick plantlife (all rhinos are herbivors), and as a kind of sensor, which the rhino tends to rub against any and all things it encounters. Older rhinos are sometimes hornless, due to excessive rubbing throughout its life, where the horn breaks off or is worn down to a nub. Baby rhinos are born without horns, but they start to develop soon after birth and are usually at full length by the time they reach sexual maturity within seven to eight years (males), or five to six years (females).

Rhinos can usually be found wandering leisurely from grassland to grassland, eating their fill and moving on. During the summer, they enjoy wallowing in mud pits to keep cool, and to keep biting insects from bothering them. Their thick, armour-like skin is actually quite sensitive, and is not immune to sunburn or most insects. When not wallowing in the mud, a few species of small birds will perch on the rhino's back, eating the insects it finds. The rhino tolerates the presence of the birds in exchange for their help with combatting the insects.

Most rhinos grow up to be between 1.2m and 2m tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 800kg and 2,300kg, depending on species. The white rhino is the largest, and, along with the remaining Indian rhinos, is the most plentiful species and the most likely to be found in the wild. The Sumatran rhino, diminutive by comparison, is the smallest, and is also the animal that early explorer Marco Polo mistook for a unicorn upon his first visit to Java.

As you may have guessed by the names, the Indian, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos are all native to various Asian countries -- Indian rhinos could once be found all over India and Nepal, and Sumatran and Javan rhinos inhabited Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The black rhino (which is actually grey) and the white rhino (also grey, but typically a lighter shade than the black rhino) are natives of a sizeable number of African countries, with the largest populations in the eastern and southern countries.

The habitat of the various species of rhino varies, covering large areas of Africa and smaller but denser areas on the Indian subcontinent. All five species are currently endangered, with three of the five considered to be at a critical risk of extinction. One particular species, the Mongolian rhino (Baluchitherium grangeri), an animal that was larger than the modern elephant and considered to be the largest land mammal to ever exist, died out several million years ago, most likely due to changes in climate. Currently, there are approximately 11,000 animals left in the world, though the white rhino has been undergoing a captive breeding program in various zoos since the 1970s, and is making a slow but steady comeback. Only about 60 Javan rhinos are alive right now, as most of them have been slaughtered by humans for their horns, which, in their part of the world, is a very popular (and likely useless) aphrodesiac. Sumatran rhinos have dwindled severly, as well, for the same reason, and now only about 200 are left, though they also are undergoing captive breeding. The black rhino numbers at about 2,000. Like elephants being poached for their tusks, rhinos are (or were, but probably still are) killed, de-horned, and then left to rot. Most black and white rhinos had their horns turned into dagger and sword handles in Middle Eastern countries, where such a thing is a symbol of status and wealth. (Gee, what a great idea.)

Rhinos are actually rather friendly creatures, as long as you don't seem threatening or try to approach their young. Those held in zoos are frequently quite docile, allowing their handlers to clean them and feed them. However, if you encounter one in the wild, you probably won't survive the encounter, if young rhinos are nearby. If a rhino feels its young is in danger, it will charge, and as it can gallup at a top speed of about 60 km/h, it'd be able to gore you with its horn before you got even a few meters away. Hopefully, only poachers will ever incur its wrath, but then, poachers never seem to go away. I can understand killing an animal for food, in moderation, but killing an animal for a single part of its body and then leaving the rest of it to rot has got to be one of the few truly evil things that humans can still do that doesn't involve killing other humans. Most of the other evil things have become part of the faceless corporate and governmental machine. Nevertheless, with any luck, the captive breeding programs will continue to succeed and the rhinoceros populations will continue to grow instead of decrease because of needless causes.

Update: The west African black rhinoceros was declared extinct in the wild on November 10, 2011.



There exists an episode of the once-great children's show Rugrats wherein, it may be said, events constitute a tribute to the Eugene Ionesco play "Rhinoceros." Written by purveyor of wit Doria Biddle, episode 93-03B (the second segment of the third installment of the year 1993) is called "Rhinoceritis!"*

Angelica, that devious diva of deception, has recently come into posession of a Binks McGill doctor playset and forces the babies - namely, as it happens, Chuckie - to be her patient. Performing some in-depth medical examination, she becomes concerned - something is wrong with this one. She consults her "medical referece text," a book that can be said to have a one-to-one ratio between letters to the alphabet and pictures of animals. Finding the 18th page, she diagnoses Chuckie with Rhinoceritis.

Her reasoning parallels the development of the symptoms in Ionesco's play - Chuckie is growing a horn (a bump on his head), his skin is becoming hard and scaly in places (scabs), and upon being told all of this, he becomes ornery and begins pacing back and forth.

The other Rugrats sympathize with Chuckie, despite his own despair, and promise solidarity. Of course, this solidarity has a Klasky-Csuponian** twist, being of the unwavering friendship variety rather than the unnatural solidarity symptomatic of the modern condition addressed by Ionesco.

In the end, a reversal is seen when the Rugrats discover the underlying truth - that the horn is only a bump after all, etc. They tell Angelica that she is the true rhinoceros. In true Ionescan flavour, Angelica becomes fully convinced and conforms to their perception of her, moving on to eat grass and warning her confused father that rhinos are "known to charge at random."

Another notable facet of this episode is the background activity (a feature of every episode that explains why the Rugrats' parents aren't paying attention to them) - taxes. The activity of compiling and filing deductions and the like is painted in a rather absurd light - not unlike Eugene Ionesco's own style. Arguments abound over whether french fries are deductible, is a receipt better proof of purchase than the remains of the french fry container itself (a question worthy of its own node - we can at least agree, however, that the receipt is easier to store), etc. The writer here is making a brilliant contrast - whereas the rhinoceros is meant to embody base instinct as a tool for instilling conformity, taxes are an entirely and hugely artificial construction.

*-itis is a suffix meaning "inflammation of the."
**Klasky-Csupo is the production company of Rugrats and several other Nicktoons.

Sources: My own memory, and http://www.rugratonline.com/rrep1993.htm was consulted for some specifics

Rhi*noc"e*ros (?), n. [L., fr. Gr. , ; . , the nose + a horn: cf. F. rhinoc'eros. See Horn.] Zool.

Any pachyderm belonging to the genera Rhinoceros, Atelodus, and several allied genera of the family Rhinocerotidae, of which several living, and many extinct, species are known. They are large and powerful, and usually have either one or two stout conical median horns on the snout.

The Indian, or white, and the Javan rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros Indicus and R. Sondaicus) have incisor and canine teeth, but only one horn, and the very thick skin forms shieldlike folds. The two or three African species belong to Atelodus, and have two horns, but lack the dermal folds, and the incisor and canine teeth. The two Malay, or East Indian, two-horned species belong to Ceratohinus, in which incisor and canine teeth are present. See Borele, and Keitloa.

Rhinoceros auk Zool., an auk of the North Pacific (Cerorhina monocrata) which has a deciduous horn on top of the bill. -- Rhinoceros beetle Zool., a very large beetle of the genus Dynastes, having a horn on the head. -- Rhinoceros bird. Zool. (a) A large hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros), native of the East Indies. It has a large hollow hornlike process on the bill. Called also rhinoceros hornbill. See Hornbill. (b) An African beefeater (Buphaga Africana). It alights on the back of the rhinoceros in search of parasitic insects.


© Webster 1913.

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