Monday, January 28, 2008

Another Colour Riddle

Just to complement my earlier colour riddle concerning pale people in Europe (link), here's another one, this time set in Africa.

A poacher cuts through the fence of a game reserve at dusk and enters. He travels one mile south, looking for rhino tracks. He sees a few tracks that run down a game path, and follows them one mile west. There the tracks split up, and the poacher must choose which set to follow. He follows one that turns north, and after a while he finds a pile of rhino dung. He picks through it with a twig, noting the grassy content. He tracks the rhino further north, completing a mile from where the tracks diverged, and sees the rhino. He closes in on it quietly, mows it down with an AK47, cuts off its horn, and heads back to his point of entry, one mile to the east.

What is the colour of the rhino?

The answer is "white", but there's a twist in the tail (or tale, if you prefer). In this riddle, the carefully reported distances are irrelevant. The key fact is that the rhino's dung contained grass. White rhinos eat grass. They have long, downward-sloping heads that position their muzzles close to the ground, handily placed for grazing grass. Black rhinos on the other hand eat trees. They have short necks and heads, and are well able to crane their muzzles upwards to reach the twigs on which they browse. The diet of the rhinos can easily be determined from their dung.

Why did the poacher care if he was following a white rhino rather than a black one? White rhinos are about 50% heavier than black rhinos, and generally have bigger horns. The poacher gets more money for a heavier horn.

And the twist in the tail? "White" rhinos aren't actually white, they're a dull gray, much the same colour as the "black" rhino. It is believed that the white rhino was originally named "weit" (wide) by German settlers in East Africa. The white rhino's muzzle is broad and squared-off, which helps it in grazing grass. The black rhino on the other hand has a more pointy muzzle with a long, prehensile upper lip that it uses to grab twigs and direct them into its mouth.

And the moral of the story? Get to see some rhinos (see link) before they're all extinct.