Moonlit Transformation Revealed
While black rhinos of the African plains are known to be dangerous and curmudgeonly beasts, researchers have discovered that they become gentle and social in the dark of night. Until now scientists have only been able to study black rhino behavior during the daytime, when the animals rarely tolerate company and can react aggressively to any who disturb them, including the occasional research vehicle.
However, filming with new high definition night vision cameras has revealed large midnight gatherings of these characteristically grumpy animals for the first time and shown the highly endangered rhinos at their most intimate.
At a watering hole in the Kalahari Desert – the location of which is being kept secret due to the threat posed by poachers – more than 50 black rhino have been found to come together to socialize in groups of up to 16 strong each night.
The gatherings have been revealed in footage captured by the BBC Natural History Unit for Sir David Attenborough’s latest wildlife series Africa, which is on Netflix people – seriously check it out.
Paul Brehem, who was the scientific adviser for the film crew, said: “For us to see this happening at night is extraordinary. It seems to be happening every night and we could see different individuals coming and going each night.
“This hasn’t really been documented or seen before. We thought the extent of their social interaction was individual males wandering around and searching out females to mate with.”
In the extraordinary footage, some of the rhino’s most intimate moments have been captured. The animals come to the water hole from miles around, greeting each other affectionately by rubbing noses.
Calves also were seen playing and communicating with each other through high pitched squeaks while older adults produce loud bellows.
In one flirtatious sequence a young male attempts to win the affections of a female away from a larger male by picking up a pair of antelope horns with his own horns and presenting them to her.
Yet despite winning her over, the younger male fails to make much of an impression and the female lies down on the ground, pretending to be asleep until he leaves her alone. It is a situation that would not seem out of place in a human romance.
“What is so touching is that there is a whole side to them that we were not aware of and had not been able to record before,” said Mr Brehem.
“We would only be able to go out on full moons to try to count the rhinos when they turned up at water holes, but we had no idea what was going on as we could not watch their behaviour.
“For the first time we can really see the animals all around and understand the broader picture. I hope it will lead to a lot of research into what is actually going on.”
Black rhinos is one of two African rhinoceros – its more common cousin the white rhino is far more sociable during the day.
Less than 5,000 black rhinos are thought to be left in the world with hundreds each year being killed by poachers for their precious horn.
In order to film their night-time behaviour the BBC had to develop a special high definition “starlight” camera that could work in almost pitch black conditions. The result provides clear images of how the animals behave at night for the first time.
Simon Blakeney, who produced the sequence for the BBC, said: “We had to delay the shoot for a year because the camera wasn’t ready, but having a high definition camera that can work in almost no light allows you to really pick up the detail.
“You could see that their eyes, which are normally almost shut during the day, were wide open. Their behavior was very intimate and it was clear they were not just there to get water.”
* Africa with David Attenborough is on Netflix, people.