Black Rhino Play

It is impossible for me to keep a straight face when I watch a rhino spin in circles, bounce around on his/her front and back legs, race around the boma, or throw sand or dirt up with her/his feet or horn.  This play behavior is not only pleasant and entertaining to watch, but also could indicate a certain level of confidence and relaxed mental state.  A rhino who is comfortable enough to “let loose” is a testament to my efforts in attempting to minimize their stress levels and condition them to life in captivity during the translocation period.

Observing play behavior in wild black rhino is uncommon for two reasons.  Black rhino prefer to stay in areas of thick vegetation, making unobstructed views of them nearly impossible, especially for any significant length of time.  Also, due to their keen senses of smell and hearing, black rhino easily detect humans and remain alert and focused on the perceived threat instead of engaging in play behavior.  Zookeepers or other people who have spent a significant amount of time with black rhino in captivity or otherwise habituated to humans may have repeatedly observed play behavior in black rhino. 

In black rhino calves, as in the young of many species, most behaviors can start as play or become play.  It is not unusual to see black rhino calves attempting to spar with or climb on the heads and sides of their sleeping mothers.  Running, charging, digging with their horn (or nub) and wallowing can also be forms of play for youngsters.

Older calves and even adults also engage in play behaviors.  These behaviors often start with the rhino standing in an alert body position, ears forward.  S/he will then either dip his/her head in a quick semi-circle or raise her/his head up so fast and so high that their front feet come off the ground for a second.  The play that follows might include the rhino shuffling his/her feet and kicking sand/dirt while moving forward with her/his head down and moving side-to-side or possibly throwing his/her head up and in a circle with her/his front feet off the ground and when s/he lands, spinning his/her backside around in a complete circle or bouncing back and forth between her/his front and back legs. 





Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.