September 15

Just So Stories: How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin


September 15, 2017

Have you ever noticed the skin folds rhino’s have on their shoulders? Or the wrinkles and lines in their skin? Or why they are for ever rubbing themselves against trees? Well, Rudyard Kipling has the answer.  Developing a skin as thick as a rhino is more complicated than you might have thought. For those with an imagination here’s another edition of his Just So Stories collection.

A rhino calf runs through the long grass
Photo credit: Wrensch Lombard

In the words of the man who wrote The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling, this is his story of how the rhino got his skin (with slight modifications for an easier read):

Rhino walking in grass with Oxpecker birds

Legend has it rhinoceros’s skin fitted him quite tight. There were no wrinkles in it anywhere. Not a single wrinkle or fold was to be seen, believe it or not.

Baby rhino in Namibia at Tswalu Motse Lodge

Living in co-existence with the rhinoceros was a Tswana man, from whose headpiece the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour.

A man in Botswana wearing a head piece

The Tswana man lived with nothing but his headpiece and his knife and a cooking-stove of the kind that you must particularly never touch.

A man in Botswana wearing a head piece

One day, the Tswana man took flour and water and made himself one loaf of bread, which was two feet across and three feet thick.

Rhino with antelope during sun rise

But, before he could eat his loaf, one rhinoceros with a horn on his nose, two piggy eyes and a few manners, scared the Tswana man away. He quickly climbed a baobab tree, with nothing but his headpiece, from which the rays of the sun were always reflected in more-than-oriental splendour.

Rhino walking through bush with Oxpecker birds
Photo Credit: Joel Herzog

In the rhinoceros’ defense he was very hungry. All the same, he had no manners then, and he has no manners now, and he never will have any manners. And the rhinoceros bumped the loaf, which then rolled into the sand. He spiked that loaf on the horn of his nose, and he ate it, and he went away, waving his tail to the Tswana man in the baobab tree.

Two rhino under the shade of the trees at the Waterberg Plateau Lodge
Photo credit: Waterberg Plateau Lodge

The Tswana man, very distressed by this, spoke to the sky and asked for the weather to turn hot and dry. On this very warm day, the rhinoceros went for a swim in the river, but first, he took his skin off. In those days, it buttoned underneath with three buttons and looked like a waterproof.

Baby rhino at the river at Black Rhino Reserve Pilanesberg National Park
Photo credit: Pilanesberg National Park

He waddled straight into the water and blew bubbles through his nose, leaving his skin on the banks of the river. The Tswana man found the skin and rubbed his hands and smiled one smile that ran all round his face two times.

Rhino in the water with Oxpecker birds in Kenya

He took that skin, and he shook that skin, and he scrubbed that skin, and he rubbed that skin with old, dry, stale, tickly breadcrumbs. He put as many crumbs in that skin as ever it could possibly hold.

Black rhinos and flamingos at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Waiting up in the baobab tree, the Tswana man watched as the rhinoceros came out of the water and put his skin back on. He buttoned his skin up with the three buttons, and it tickled like breadcrumbs in bed.

Rhino and her baby walking under the dark clouds
Photo Credit: Chris Minihane

Then he  wanted to scratch, but that made it worse. He then he lay down on the sands and rolled and rolled and rolled. Every time he rolled the breadcrumbs tickled him worse and worse and worse.

Rhino lying down and rolling at the Rhino River Lodge
Photo credit: Rhino River Lodge

He ran to a tree and rubbed and rubbed and rubbed himself against it. He rubbed so much and so hard that he rubbed his skin into a great fold over his shoulders, and another fold underneath, where the buttons used to be (but he rubbed the buttons off), and he rubbed some more folds over his legs.

Baby rhino rubbing against a tree stump
Photo credit: Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Rhino walking in the grass in Botswana

This spoiled his temper, but that didn’t make the least difference to the breadcrumbs. And from that day to this, every rhinoceros has great folds in his skin and a very bad temper, all on account of the tickly breadcrumbs inside.

Rhino lying down
Photo credit: Aan Assumbaary Tanjung

Do you know how the elephant got his trunk?  We do!

More rhino-filled articles for you:

Save the Rhino Trust

An Unlikely Encounter Between Two Rhinos and an Elephant 

Walking with rhinos: A closer look at what it takes to save a species

Meet the South African Woman Who Has Rehabilitated 26 Baby Rhinos

Join the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos



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About the author 

Jemma Brewitt

Jemma's love for nature and culture grew while growing up on her family's dairy farm in the Natal Midlands. Since then she has been a ski lift operator in the Sierra Nevada, an Au Pair in London, an English teacher in Vietnam and is now writing about her favourite continent - Africa.

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