By Amelia Meyer
Not possessing the physical mechanics that humans have to communicate does not mean that animals do not interact with one another, convey emotions or relay messages. In fact, animals have efficient and complex ways of communicating with one another, and rhinoceroses are no exception.
Rhinos communicate in several different ways, in much the same way as humans use our voice, facial expressions, body language, and so on.
The rhino relies on its sense of smell quite extensively, since it is so finely tuned. The olfactory area of the brain is its largest, indicating how important it is to the animal. The spraying of faeces and urine are, therefore, common means of communicating with other rhinos to establish ownership of personal territory or the presence of another rhino at a watering hole or popular feeding area. The rhino uses these scents to identify itself to the others. When spraying urine, the rhino will generally spray two or three quick sprays every five minutes, approximately. A pile of rhino dung is called a midden and holds very valuable information for other rhinos. Upon finding a midden, a rhino will smell it, walk through it and then add his or her own dung to the pile. Before leaving, the animal will be careful to kick all of the dung off of their feet, discarding the smell of the other animal.
When the rhinos encounter one another, they will use their vocal sounds to communicate. Within its vocalisations is a number of different sounds, which are used in different situations and to convey different messages. These sounds include squeals, snorts, moos, growls and even a trumpet sound. Screaming indicates fright, terror or an urgent appeal for the calf to get to safety. Panting is used to indicate to other rhinos that they need to join up, particularly in the face of danger. It is also used by the mother to call her calf. The speed and pattern of this panting is integral to the rhino’s conveying different messages.
Infrasonic sounds refer to those that are below the range of human hearing, but can be heard by certain animals. Not much research has been done on this means of communication, but the Sumatran Rhino has been found to emit a whistle followed by a sharp burst of air that can carry for up to 12 miles, or almost 20 kilometres.
By using their bodies, rhinoceroses can communicate extensively with one another. They may flatten their ears to warn another animal off, rub sides with another rhino as a sign of affection, or bash their heads into bushes, as is the case of bulls showing aggression. Curiosity is indicated by erect ears and tails, while calves might swing their heads to invite others to play with them.