When you’re in the midst of the African wilderness, whether on foot or in a game vehicle, you may observe wild animals behaving curiously. They, much like humans, have instinctive practices to guard themselves against the harsh natural elements and the threat of predators. From quirky dancing to taking sand baths and showing off their colourful plumage, our wild neighbours have some unusual and unique habits.
Today we’ll look at an activity practiced by rhinos – wallowing in mud pools. It’s a pastime they love and, for these ungulates (hoofed animals), it is imperative that their calves are trained to mud-wallow effectively. We managed to capture a video of a crash of rhinos wallowing in a waterhole in South Africa’s Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. Watch how they lather themselves and make no attempt to brush off the mud. In fact, the more caked they are, the happier they appear.
Once their mud-wallow is complete, they usually find a nearby stump or tree and scratch away endlessly. What is the reason for this behaviour?
Rhinos wallow in mud to protect their skin from the sun, to cool off and to ward off parasites. In essence, the mud acts as a natural UV buffer and asssits thermoregulation. In areas where summer temperatures soar to above 40 degrees Celsius, you’ll notice even more rhinos wallowing. When it is hot, it is vitally important that rhinos have hollows of water where they can cool off because, despite their armour-like appearance and their 1.5-cm-thick skin, they are sensitive creatures that suffer tremendously from sunburn and insect bites.
Most rhinos are accompanied by oxpeckers – graceful birds that hitch rides on rhino backs. The birds have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts, providing two services: removing ticks and warning the rhinos of impending danger. In return, the birds enjoy a snack of ticks off the rhino. However there is one drawback to the relationship – the pecking birds can slow down the healing process of any open sores. All the more reason for the rhino to take a mud bath and remove the parasites! Rhinos, despite being territorial, are quite happy to share their wallows with rhinos from neighboring territories. However, this sharing of space is more commonly practiced by white rhinos. Black rhinos appear to be far more solitary creatures.
Rhinos are not able to sweat. To accelerate heat loss and keep themselves cool, they cake themselves in mud. They normally wait roughly an hour for the mud to dry before heading to a nearby tree stump or trunk for a jolly good scratch. The scratching helps rid them of ticks, fleas, lice and other pesky mites.
So, next time you see a rhino wallowing, think about how it is using nature to protect and soothe its skin. After all, mud is often promoted as containing an array of therapeutic properties to keep skin supple and healthy. Perhaps rhinos could teach us a thing or two about wallowing in a waterhole!
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