A couple of months ago I took some guests up past the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and onto the little known or experienced uMkhuze Game Reserve, on one of our Durban safari trips. A beautiful reserve that is home to an exceptional amount of wildlife and made famous by its unique viewing hides.
It was at the most famous hide that I filmed a great interaction between a male, female and baby white rhino. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, in fact it was very typical rhino behaviour and gave me the perfect opportunity to not only tell my safari guests about this endangered species, but for them to experience it first hand as I explained it.
You can watch the video below and then I have provided my observations for you to read below that:
First up we see the big male walking down to the water for a drink. In the background we see a female and her calf watching him intently. Unfortunately I was a bit slow and I missed the beginning of the interaction where she actually charged him to dispel his advances. In other words, he can smell that she is coming into oestrus and is wanting to mate with her. However she is not quite ready yet, as she has a calf that is not fully weaned. I estimate the calf to be about a year, so it is on the verge of being fully weaned.
She will not mate with a male until she knows for certain the calf doesn’t need her for milk, as mating is a protracted affair and the youngster will be alone for quite some time. He will follow her around for up to 20 days, then eventually she will stop her aggression towards him and allow him to approach. The courtship will last a full day and copulation itself up to a hour!
The interaction in the video is showing this very well and while the mother drinks (note baby doesn’t, telling us it is still drinking milk) the bull moves around the back. She immediately turns to face him and we hear some very strange noises. A combination of wails and huffs, warning him to back off. He then moves around the other side nonchalantly like he had no intention of approaching her and subsequently takes his frustration out on a warthog!
He then eventually heeds her warnings and decides to go about some other rhino business. The mud bath! This is a practice (wallowing) performed by many of Africa’s herbivores, elephant, buffalo and warthog are a few. It is firstly a great way to cool off and on really hot days animals can be seen lying in mud and water for hours during the hottest part of the day. Secondly, once they leave the waterhole, as we see our subject do here, it provides an effective sunscreen. Lastly, he has now trapped a myriad of different parasites under this layer of mud, that over the next few hours is going to cake and harden. He will then visit a tree, stump or rock of choice, where the layer is removed by rubbing his body up against it. Frequented objects are know as rubbing posts and eventually become smooth and polished, their gleam can be seen scattered all around the African veld.
Finally we see the male make his way up to the dung heap or correctly, the rhino midden. Here he performs a task which validates all the other observation we made. He defecates in the midden and then rubs his hind legs in the dung and scatters it. This tells us that he is the territorial bull. Middens are used as territorial beacons and are used by all rhinos to communicate. Females and younger, non territorial bulls have to drop dung on or near a midden when they pass it, to indicate their presence in the bulls territory. It is just such a midden, if not this exact one (the beginning of the video shows the female standing there), where he would have smelt that she was coming into season. By rubbing his feet in it, he is declaring that this is his territory and as he marches off and continues to graze his area. he leaves a scent trail to say as much!!
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