White Rhino Play

“King of the hill” was a popular game with one group of three young white rhino that I looked after.  We had a large rock in each boma that was intended for horn rubbing and belly scratching, but that often became the prize over which these young rhino fought.  During one of their sparring sessions, one of them would inevitably walk over and put one or both front feet on the rock, challenging her/his opponents.  One would always engage and a squeaking, snorting, pushing and sparring battle would ensue until the first rhino was either dethroned or managed to hold on to his/her position on the rock.

Play behavior in white rhino is seen most often in young calves.  They might play alone or engage with their mothers.  If their siblings or other youngsters are with them, they will often spar or play together.  Play behavior in adults is rare, but does occur.

Many natural behaviors demonstrated by adult rhinos are learned and practiced through play as adolescents.  Sparring is a common past time and can help hone fighting skills for territorial battles and/or self-defense or defense of offspring later in life.  Wallowing, while practical, also appears to be a fun pastime for white rhino and after wallowing, they often run, spin, and bounce.  The cool temperatures of early morning or late evening can also spark these playful energy bursts.

White rhino do not throw their heads up during play as readily as black rhino do due to the large mass of their skulls and their muscular design, which inhibits this motion.  They do, however, shuffle their feet and plow with their horns like black rhino.  They run and spin, and though they do bounce between their front and back feet, that is a behavior primarily seen in younger, smaller white rhino.







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