White rhinos live in wide open savannah in Africa, where they graze. They have wide mouths, and it is said that the name of the white rhino is a corruption of the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’.
White rhino graze with their heads down on the ground, using their flat upper lip to cut and eat grass and other ground vegetation. They can crop the grass close to the earth, just like sheep who use their teeth to cut the grass as short as a mower would cut the grass. Sheep have a lower set of front teeth and a dental pad in their upper jaw. They grind and cut grass between their teeth and the dental pad.
White rhino have no front teeth at all. Instead, they grind and cut the grass between their upper and lower lips. You can see their wide jaws in this photo of a white rhino and her young. I took this shot late in the afternoon, almost into evening, so the light was very low. I had to bump the ISO up to ISO 4000 to get a shot at all.
Cows also have an upper dental pad, but they are poor at cutting off grass. Instead, they grasp the grass with their tongues and pull it up in clumps. Because of that, they cannot eat grass unless it is long enough to grasp.
Clipping The Grass
The difference in the way cows and sheep eat was the reason for the range wars in the American West. The cattle ranchers got to the land first, and then sheep farmers arrived. The cattle ranchers were worried that sheep would cut the grass, clipping it so short that the cattle would not be able to get a purchase on the grass to pull up clumps of it.
And the cattle ranchers were right to worry. Sheep do take out everything before it gets a chance to grow.
In England, there are so many sheep that they have landscaped the countryside, removing saplings and small bushes before they have a chance to take hold.
In the same way, white rhinos have landscaped the African savannah. If rhinos were to be poached out of existence, the effect on the landscape would be dramatic.
Here is the white rhino and her young in the middle distance, and you can see the wide lower jaw clearly.