Response to Humans

Jack was a 7-year-old white rhino bull who I got to know when I took him from South Africa to Botswana.  When I called Jack, he would come up to the fence for a belly rub and would even lie down so he could roll onto his side or back for a more thorough scratch.  When visitors came to the boma, I would introduce them to Jack.  He would stand and let them rub his side and back.  If I was not with the visitors, even those who had been to visit him a handful of times, he would stay at the far side of the boma and stare when they tried to call him over.  It seemed that Jack had learned to trust me and became comfortable with me in a way that he was not with strangers or acquaintances. 

White rhino are known as the less aggressive of the two African species and in the wild are often more visible than black rhino, not only because of their preference for open grassland, but also because most populations seem to habituate to and tolerate human presence more than black rhino do.  When white rhino feel threatened, however, they will charge.  They rarely charge with intent to harm, but rather charge to demonstrate that they are unhappy with the perceived threat and then turn away.

When wild white rhinos are first put into captivity, however, they are extremely wild and take several weeks to settle down.  In fact, white rhinos will often become anorexic and refuse to eat for several days; some will go so long that they have to be released back into the wild.  Keeping them together in pairs or small groups will sometimes help them settle in.  Getting them used to human presence and noise also helps them adjust to life in captivity.

In zoos, white rhino are generally calm and mild-mannered.  Given an appropriate amount of space, quantity and quality of food, proper social settings, and basic necessities like a mud wallow and a scratching post, white rhino can do well in captivity.






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