Party animals: Black rhino nightlife


Etosha black rhinos at nightThe BBC’s recent blockbuster series on Africa made much of new footage showing black rhinos enjoying what were dubbed ‘secret parties’ at a Namibian waterhole. These nocturnal get-togethers won’t have been news to anyone who has visited Etosha national park’s Okaukuejo rest camp during the dry season. Black rhinos regularly visit the camp’s floodlit waterhole after dark, often engaging in social interaction as well as slaking their thirst.

We managed a brief visit to Okaukuejo during our latest trip to Namibia for this project, and one of the highlights was watching black rhinos at the waterhole. Etosha’s black rhino population is thriving, and as many as nine individuals visited the waterhole within just a couple of hours of sunset, arriving as individuals or cows with calves, but often interacting with the other rhinos present. Black rhino greetings can be uneasy affairs, with much huffing and puffing, and the occasional incongruous squeal, but there was no real conflict.

Black rhino, Etosha

Particularly fascinating to see was when one mother arrived with a small calf, only a few months old. The local territorial bull was already at the water, hanging around to check out any potentially receptive females. The newly arrived cow studiously ignored him, but her calf was clearly curious, and fearlessly approached the big bull, presumably its father, to touch noses. It was one of those sightings that makes it difficult not to anthropomorphise!

The success of Etosha’s black rhino population is undoubtedly welcome news amid all the doom and gloom about poaching, but there are very real worries among Namibian conservationists that it can only be a matter of time before the park is seriously targeted.

Black rhino drinkingBlack rhinos are generally significantly more difficult to poach than white, as they are more nocturnal, secretive and aggressive, and tend to frequent thick bush. But black rhino horn is also more sought after than white on the black market. So far Namibia has only suffered a few isolated incidents of poaching. As elsewhere in Africa, China is heavily involved in the country’s economic development, and there are growing concerns that it’s only a matter of time before the rise in wildlife trafficking in other African countries will arrive in Namibia.

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