Two-time Kariega Volunteer, Graham Harvey, took this photograph during his last visit to Kariega Game Reserve in the latter part of 2016. He described the situation under which it was taken as follows:
“Two groups of white rhino came together and as they met Thandi appears to greet one of the male rhinos with a ‘kiss’!”
Graham was intrigued by this interaction and asked the Kariega team if this was normal behaviour. The answer is yes! Typically male and female rhinos only come together, as captured in this photograph, during courting and mating. Once the dominant male is established, the female makes her intentions known by following him around. The male then starts to throw his weight around before mating occurs.
However, we can now confirm that Thandi was pregnant with her second calf at the end of 2016. Female rhinos hide their pregnancy well and we only suspected, but were not sure, that she was carrying a calf. The birth surprised us on 24 January 2017.
Read more about the story of poaching survivor Thandi and her two rhino calves.
Rhino Courting Starts with Fights for Dominance
Female rhino ovulate once every 28 days, but are only receptive to males for one or two days in this cycle. It is during this time that the drama unfolds as male rhino detects the female scent and fight for dominance to mate with her. These fights are often brutal and aggressive and can be fatal.
Female Rhino Chase Males Before Mating
Once dominance is established, it is the female that takes over the chase. During this phase of the courtship, the female rhino makes her intentions known to her male of choice by following him around and making a low whistling sound. This is possibly what Graham captured in this photograph and the supposed kiss.
The courtship intensifies during a bluff and bluster ritual where, for hours on end, the male rhino thrashes his head about aggressively and wrestles the female into submission with bites and butts before mounting her.