Wildlife TV

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Dangerous Herbivores: Rhinos

on July 13, 2013

In a previous post we learned about the Big 5; a term used to describe a group of animals that were historical the most dangerous to hunt. Nowadays, these animals are the most prized sightings on safari holidays but the danger they posed to people is still very real. Of the big 5, only 2 are predators; the others are herbivores meaning they eat plant matter, but, as we’ve seen with the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), plant eating animals are still extremely dangerous. The next animals we’re going to look at are rhinoceroses, specifically the two species found in Africa; the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhino (Diceros bicornis)

Rhinoceros

Rhinos can also be fearsome beasts despite their generally peaceful vegetarian lifestyle. Adult rhinos, like elephants, have almost no natural predators but they are at risk of becoming involved in fights with other rhinos and also have to protect their young from predators such as hyenas and lions. So how do rhinos protect themselves? The weapons at a rhino’s disposal are of course its horns which grow from the front of its face and are in fact composed of the same material as human hair, keratin, and it’s these horns that they use to fight with other rhinos or to defend themselves or their young against any other potential threat. There are two species of rhinoceros in Africa, the black rhino and the white rhino but it is the black rhino that has acquired more of a reputation for ‘extreme’ aggression perhaps as a result from living in densely vegetated areas where escaping threats isn’t always possible. Interestingly, black rhinos are so aggressive that nearly half of all males die as a result of fighting each other, and nearly a third of females.

A White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) presents its impressive horns.

The keratin horns of this White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) are strong, deadly weapons.

Similarly to elephants, rhinos practice mock charging, but in the absence of big ears to flap, they instead scrap their horn on the ground or against nearby objects whilst snorting. However, many humans have ended up on the wrong end of a rhino’s horn because the animal was caught by surprise and unable to intimidate the threat it perceived; rhinos in general have very poor vision, with the exception of youngsters, and although their other senses are very acute, it is possible to approach rhinos quietly from downwind and get very close without them becoming aware of your presence. The problem arises when the rhino suddenly realises that a potential threat is already well within its comfort zone and it becomes spooked; one defence mechanism that rhinos employ is to panic run, this is where they charge in whichever random direction is easiest in the hope of either escaping a threat or trampling it in the process, unfortunately, a person might find themselves in the path of this panic run without much opportunity to get out of the way. Also, rhino females will very often be escorting a calf as they are on a lifelong cycle where they still live with a previous calf when a new one is born. They have a birthing interval of three years and it is very possible that a healthy reproductive female will never be without a calf in her adult life; a rhino cow’s maternal instinct can also contribute to a rhino’s aggression/defensiveness when humans are around. Humans have found themselves impaled on rhino horns, thrown into the air or even trampled underfoot and we should all learn the lesson that rhinos can be unpredictable.

A Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) chasis a field guide who had antagonised it.

This foolish guide unethically antagonised a Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) just to appease guests.
Photo Credits.

Like most animals, rhinos would much rather spend their days peacefully feeding and rearing their young, however, the African bush is a difficult environment full of conflict and these often peaceful herbivores will resort to deadly force if they have to. I hope you enjoyed learning about the darker side of African rhinos. In the next post we will look at another dangerous herbivore, the African buffalo. To learn about even more dangerous animals, check out our series page.

Much love,

-Nick

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