The white rhino is quite possibly the biggest pure grazer that ever lived, a kind of modern day dinosaur if you like. It has a huge barrel shaped body carried on wide, stumpy legs with a thick, hairless hide and apparently exposed ribs that give it the appearance of both obesity and starvation at the same time. Its low small eyes, high trumpet-shaped ears and strangely dainty feet, make it both unmistakable and totally unfamiliar, something that I think makes them hard for people to relate to. Putting their looks aside however, there is a behaviour that they exhibit that makes them incredibly endearing even to the most cynical human. What is this you may ask? Well the fact that they are incredibly adept at the practice of adoption.
When rhino calves leave their mothers between two and four years old, it is not because they want to. As the female starts to come into estrus again, males are able to smell this in her urine and she begins to receive a lot of attention. During this period, males can become quite aggressive or boisterous making it an unsafe time for the youngster. Even if the calf doesn’t leave the mother during this mating period, it will eventually be forced out with the arrival of the latest calf, as the female has to focus her energy and attention on raising this new vulnerable baby. So what does this three-year-old rhino do when it finds itself all alone in the wilderness?
You can imagine that still being quite young and alone in the big bad world would be quite a daunting experience and so young rhinos do the obvious thing. They seek out the company of other more experienced and confident rhinos. A few youngsters may band together creating a crash of similar ages but more often than not, a youngster will find another female and attach itself to her and her baby.
This is totally acceptable to the adult female, who doesn’t have to feed or directly care for the youngster. All she has to do is allow it to tag along with her little family. The youngster will eat when she does, drink where she does and find shelter where she thinks is best. In so doing, it will become more adept at learning to care for itself and will become more confident to stray away from this safety blanket as it gets older.
So despite this behemoths ungainly appearance, it seems there is something quite special we can learn from this prehistoric beast. Londolozi is the Zulu word for “the protector of all living things”and it seems rhino have the same deep appreciation of this principle. While they are wild animals, preoccupied with basic survival, they are still prepared to provide sanctity to the younger generations of their species even if they are not their own. So remember that despite their armoured, hardcore appearance, these animals do have a softer side. Again this serves as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving – scratch beneath the surface and you’ll be amazed at what you will find.
Which mothers in the animal kingdom do you believe make the best moms? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Written by: Amy Attenborough, Londolozi Game Ranger