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How do rhinos mate?

In 1940, Tsavo National Park harbored around 20,000 rhinos, yet rampant poaching led their numbers to plummet to less than 20 by 1989. The establishment of the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary (NRS) and the Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) successfully increased the rhino population, reaching the sanctuary’s carrying capacity of 120  black rhinos.

Fueled by Rhino Recovery Sanctuary funding, the Tsavo Trust now concentrates on bolstering rhino numbers in the western part of Tsavo National Park, involving heightened security and monitoring outside the sanctuary in preparation for rhino releases.

For the preservation of rhinos and combating the extinction of this vital species, the rhinos themselves play a pivotal role – breeding and reproducing.

This article will delve into the courtship rituals of these magnificent creatures and explore their reproductive processes.

Rhino Oestrus

Female rhinos reach sexual maturity around 3 years old, while males become ready for breeding at about 7. The mating process follows a familiar pattern seen in many large mammals, with the male mounting the female from behind. However, the preceding courtship ritual is far from ordinary; it’s marked by violence, danger, and complexity.

Female rhinos experience ovulation every 28 days, and their receptivity to males lasts for a brief one or two days within the cycle. Interestingly, a female only ovulates when separated from her mother; if her mother is present, the daughter refrains from ovulating, ensuring she avoids male attention.

Do rhinos have territory?

Among male rhinos, courtship rituals commence with territory marking. They use dung and urine spraying to signal their claim on a specific area, making it clear to other males that this territory is off-limits, including any receptive females within it.

How do rhinos fight?

When a female is ready for mating, males pick up on her scent. To earn the right to mate, males engage in intense fights. These bouts can be harsh, often resulting in severe injuries. The territorial fights pose a significant threat to rhino conservation, as these aggressive creatures can deplete their already small populations.

Once a male establishes himself as the worthy suitor, it’s the female who takes charge of the pursuit.

Rhino Vocalisation

Once the female identifies her preferred mate, the courtship begins with vocalisation, creating a distinctive whistling sound. Alongside vocalisation, she follows the chosen male, occasionally spraying scent to signal other females to back off.

Bluff and Bluster

As the romantic connection solidifies, the female actively pursues her chosen mate, initiating a “bluff and bluster” ritual that can last for hours. This foreplay can get intense, with the male aggressively thrashing his head. This may lead to wrestling and fighting before copulation, including biting and butting.

The entire courtship process is perilous and draining for both rhinos, with cases of fatal injuries reported, such as a male rhino believed to have been killed by his mate at Dhaka Zoo in Bangladesh during the courtship ritual.


Eventually, the male is able to mount the female, with copulation lasting for half an hour or more. The female can also mate with more than one rhino during her oestrus period.

How long are rhinos pregnant?

The gestation period of a rhino lasts 15-17 months, making it the 6th longest gestation period of any animal in the world. It can be challenging to determine if a female rhino is pregnant, only becoming apparent a few days before she gives birth. Females give birth to one infant weighing between 30 and 45 kg.

Remarkably, the birth of a new infant is followed immediately by the rejection of the mother’s previous infant. The older sibling may then go on to find an older non-related rhino to follow.

Conservation success

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of conservation organisations and the Kenya Wildlife Service, poaching has decreased dramatically in recent years in Kenya. In 2022, for the second year in three years, Kenya lost no rhinos to poaching. Unfortunately, this same trend cannot be seen in other African countries, with South Africa losing 448 rhinos in 2022 to poaching.

Rhinos are still considered endangered, and for various reasons. If you would like to read more about the plight of these creatures, follow this link to our previous article.

The successful courting, mating, and birthing of rhinos are crucial factors for the continued existence of the black rhino. Regrettably, this process is fraught with peril, often resulting in fatal injuries. This underscores the importance of securing land for wildlife, providing animals like rhinos with ample space for expansion without the necessity of competitive struggles.

With only 27,431 rhinos remaining globally, including those in captivity, conservation efforts and successful breeding assume paramount significance to ensure the preservation of these captivating mammals and their integral role in the ecosystem.

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