TREE RUBBING BY WHITE RHINOS: POTENTIAL FUNCTIONS OF AN UNDESCRIBED BEHAVIOR
I observed white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) in Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe, perform a behavior previously undescribed for this species; males vigorously removed the bark from commiphora trees (Commiphora marlothii) with their horns, and then rubbed their head and rostrum on the debarked areas. To explore this behavior further, I sampled commiphora trees in the Whovi Game Park, a fenced reserve within Matobo National Park, which contained a population of 43 white rhinos. Almost 30% of commiphora trees available to rhinos had been debarked. Only 2 marks were observed on 107 trees outside the fenced reserve, in an area without a resident population of rhinos. Tree rubbing in white rhinos is similar to "sign-posting" in cervids and some bovids, and may function as a scent-marking behavior. Alternatively, perhaps rhinos ingested bark or resin during tree rubbing. Therefore, other potential functions of this behavior may include nutritional or medicinal use of commiphora.
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