Black Rhino Mother/Offspring Relationships

One night I sat at a waterhole in Namibia watching a pride of about six lions.  After they had been there a while, a black rhino cow wandered in with her calf following behind her.  The calf was not more than a month or two old and I figured that once the female noticed the lions, she would turn around and take her daughter to safety.  As she moved closer, she noticed the pride and pressed on.  Even when they began to circle, she kept her calf close and with snorts, huffs, and small charges, kept the lions back until she got to the waterhole to drink.  As soon as she put her head down to the water, I thought for sure the lions would try to approach.  One look from Momma Rhino, however, and they retreated immediately.  Her body language and threatening snorts and charges were enough to prevent a serious approach or attach from the predators.  Even with a significant advantage in number, they knew an attack on a black mother’s calf could be costly.  The mother finished her drink and made her way back through the pride with another small charge and snort before melting into the darkness without looking back.

Black rhino cows become sexually mature at 6-8 years of age.  They generally have calves every 2-4 years.  Black rhino calves are usually weaned at approximately 18 months old and stay with their mothers until their mothers calve again.  Sometimes they will rejoin their mothers after the new calf is born, but usually they find another youngster to hang out with or a female that may or may not have her own calf at foot.  It is also not unusual for an adult bull to allow a youngster to periodically spend some time with him. 

The bond between black rhino cows and their calves is very strong.  They will be inseparable for the first two years of the calf’s life or until the cow calves again.  During this time, the mother is extremely protective of her calf and the only time they might be apart is if the mother hides the calf while she browses or goes to drink.  This does not happen with all females in all environments but hiding a calf in thick vegetation while traveling in the open to a water source could reduce risk of a predator spotting the calf.

Black rhino males have limited interaction with their offspring.  Some individuals are more inclined to interact with them than others, but as a general rule, they have little to no involvement in the upbringing or protection of their calves. 



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