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Tracking Rhinos

Whilst working at Imire Conservation Reserve in Zimbabwe, I witnessed some serious courtship behavior from a male white rhino. Whenever the female strayed from his eyesight (which incidentally in rhinos is around 15 metres before everything gets a bit blurry) he would stop his grazing, do a big sniff, find her scent again, and proceed in a straight line towards her. The female wasn’t as receptive as he probably hoped, as she’d quickly do a ‘leave me a alone’ snort and trundle off again. This process was repeated many times while we were observing.

Male and female white rhino

We also learned there are some distinct differences between white and black rhinos. Physical differences include the white rhino’s wide lips that allow it to graze on grasses and shrubs, where the black rhino has got prehensile lips that allow it to wrap their mouths around tree branches.

White (left) and Black (right) Rhino comparison

What goes in must come out the other end, and with their different eating habits their poo is also quite distinct. White rhino poo contains a lot of grass, and black rhino poo is full of sticks and branches. This is very useful to identify who we’re tracking. Their footprints differ too, with black rhino’s heels making a rounded ‘U’ shape, whereas white rhino tracks have a big ‘W’ at their heel base.

Even though both rhino species inhabit a similar geographical range, their behavior is quite different. As mentioned before, when courting the white rhino males pursue the females, whereas for black rhinos, it’s the female who snorts and chases the male. The way they protect their young couldn’t be more different either. Adult white rhinos, with their quieter demeanor, will position their calf in front of them and encourage the calf to run away from danger. On the other side of the coin, black rhinos tend to put their young behind them and then charge towards the danger, like predator would. If only this would work to protect them from poachers!

Emily said

I love rhinos!!!

    Thomas Mitchell, Melbourne Zoo said

    These rhinos certainly had personality, with the male black rhino Tatenda (‘thank you’ in Shona) on more than one occasion removing the horizontal wooden poles of his pen overnight to be greeting us on the porch in the morning like he owned the place!

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