Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

The role of middens in white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) olfactory communication (#97)

Courtney Marneweck 1 , Andreas Juergens 2 , Adrian M Shrader 1
  1. School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
  2. Chemical Plant Ecology, Technische Universit├Ąt Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany

White rhinos transmit information about their sex, age, territorial and oestrous state via dung odours. White rhinos defecate communally in middens and it has been suggested that these middens act as information centres. However, it is uncertain which individuals are primarily transmitting information or who this information is intended for. We investigated the behaviour of white rhinos at middens and found that they were utilised predominately by adults. Territorial adult males visited and defecated more than any other individuals. Adult males investigated dung piles more than any other age or sex, and the majority of these piles belonged to territorial males and adult females (i.e. male-male and female-male communication). Adult females investigated the dung of non-territorial males more than adult males did, and also investigated the dung of other females as much as males did (male-female and female-female communication). There was a spatial aspect to defecating in middens, where territorial males defecated in the centre of the midden, while other individuals defecated around the periphery. Lastly, territorial males regulated their dung output, with a higher defecation frequency and smaller dung volume than any other adult. Ultimately, our results indicate that middens act as information centres, where the primary function seems to be for territorial males to transmit and obtain information (male-male and female-male communication). However, in addition, non-territorial males can assess female reproductive state, while females may be assessing the quality of all the males and even the number of other females that use a midden (male-female and female-female communication).