From dung “messages” to horns, rhinos are full of surprises
By Jaye Be Lapido on September 22, 2023
Re:wild collaborates with partners in Africa and Asia to protect rhinos.
Here are some fascinating facts about the special and charismatic fhinoceros. There are five species of fhinoceros and these magnificent mammals each have unique and special behaviors and characteristics— from hairy Sumatran Rhinos to the not-so-black Black Rhinos.
Without a doubt, we all associate rhinos, quite literally meaning “nose horn”, with their gray, stout physiques adorned with their famous horns. However, some may remember rhinos with either one or two horns– but both are accurate! For example Javan Rhinos have one horn while Black Rhinos and Sumatran Rhinos have two.
When a rhino calf is born, it can immediately support its body weight and stand for between one and two hours to nurse from its mother. The rhino calf remains with its mother for the first two years of its life, learning survival skills while under the protection of its much bigger and more powerful mom. Eventually, the calf becomes independent and separates from its mother.
Imagine living in the dense rainforests of Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park. How would you navigate your way through the tangle of plants and trees? Javan Rhinoceroses depend largely on their noses. An impressive attribute of Javan Rhinos (as well as other rhinos) is their keen sense of smell. The olfactory sensory organ within rhinos’ brains is so advanced, they can use smell for communication, reproduction, and defense against threats.
Rhinos might impress with their sense of smell, but they aren’t impressing anyone with their vision. Located on the sides of their heads, their eyes can only effectively see 30% of what is in front of them. (They don’t have binocular eyesight, like primates do.) But sometimes, rhinos’ poor eye-sight can help rangers and conservationists observe them in the wild.
Black rhinos use communal dung piles, known as middens, as a type of message board. The rhinos are able to differentiate each dung “message” by its smell, which indicates if it was left by a young or mature rhino, or a female or male rhino. Black Rhinos scrape their messages onto their back legs to let other rhinos know of their presence and other lingering messages. How thoughtful!
Sumatran Rhinos are the only rhino species covered in hair. The reddish-brown hair is mostly likely a vestige from their distant ancestor, the Wooly Rhino. The Sumatran Rhinos’ hair helps them stay cool. Their long hair follicles allow them to not only collect mud to cool their skin’s temperature, but to also protect them against insects and pests.
Sumatran Rhinos are the smallest of the five rhino species in the world. At the shoulder, the species stands about five feet tall. Regardless of their “smaller” stature compared to their larger counterparts around the world, this does not lower their measure in might. Young Sumatran Rhinos are notorious for their assertive nature toward other rhinos and are able to reach a speed of 40km/hr. (Check out this video about Sumatran Rhinos.)
Black Rhinos, Indian, Sumatran and Javan Rhinos all have a prehensile lip. Their top lips appear to extend upwards, as if the rhinos were puckering up for a smooch. Instead of giving kisses, however, the curved lips help each species browse–gripping leaves, shrubs and twigs.
The Indonesian government is leading a rescue effort to protect Sumatran Rhinos and relocate individual rhinos to Sumatran Rhino Sanctuaries, conservation breeding centers. Specially trained rangers and conservationists searching for isolated rhinos look for signs of “twisted branches, footprints with three toes, or fresh dung.”
Jaye Be Lapido
Jaye Be is a freelance writer for Re:wild and has had affinity for the natural world around her since childhood. She has always been taken by the ocean and the marine animals that inhabit it; specifically whale sharks and manatees. Now, a student at Binghamton University, Jaye Be looks forward to contributing to conservation efforts found around the world.