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Territorial and sexual behaviour of white rhinos on Valentines Day

What a coincidence! My text message to my wife wishing her ‘happy Valentines day’ was going to be my only representation of love and war on this particular valentine’s day, then suddenly I was thrown anthropomorphically into rhino relationships, courtship and combat.

Being able to guide through dramatic behavioral situations doesn’t happen everyday – even when you spend as much time as I do in the bush. This time I can write my account of a series of white rhino moments, and safely say, “I was there!” I doubt my guests will forget the sights and sounds of rhino love, and rhino war for a very long time.

Most reference books, research and reflection on mammal behaviour include paragraphs on the social organisation and social behaviour of the animal. Parent/offspring behaviour, sexual behaviour and anti-predator behaviour are always well documented.

Accounts of communication will describe the animals’ defensive or submissive displays, and list the vocal, olfactory and posturing that goes on in agnostic behavior. Fighting, aggression, dominance and threat or warnings are all key to understanding the animal’s situation, rank or mood within a social and individual context – Just like us! Yes, just like us, and the more I sit and watch and listen to mammals – the more I start to evoke my sometimes mischievous side. You see, I don’t believe we are any different, I just couldn’t help but to align it to a pub fight between testosterone-filled boys fighting over a girl who ultimately wasn’t even interested yet.

The amount of action – two ton bulldozers clubbing each other, horn fencing and snarling – going on was enough to get the whole system watching. Impala’s and giraffe watched from a distance. In one scene a whole tree gets taken out in the middle of the rumpus. There are several scenes where the shrieking and feinted attacks are swapping from submission to aggression, and the bulls (of which there were three) were almost undecided about where the next intra-action was going to come from.

Eventually, the territorial bull is bullied away by a more handsome fella’ but the new guy still has another competitor to handle, and all the while, the female with her calf are trying to move on, as quietly as possible, through the fracas and into quieter places. She was in estrous but with small calf and probably not ready to leave her calf unguarded to attend to the sexual advances of a bull rhino. I presume this was happening at a territorial boundary because once the initial bull was ousted, the new fella’ had a lot on his plate and started juggling between territorial urine-spraying, running after the cow and love-calling in his best hic-throbbing voice, and standing for copulation only to have to revert to a ‘head up, ears cocked’ stance – and then charging after one of the other bulls. In one scene he grabs a bunch of ground greens and charges up to the cow almost as if presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. All this kept us enthralled for almost two hours.

The horn to horn encounter in front of my vehicle was incredible because it was the moment the new fella’ exacted submission from the other bull – that bull automatically became a satellite bull, started grazing and never entered the fight again – the other two – the territorial bull and the new fella’ were still at after we left the scene.

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