Young southern white rhinos use four calls to communicate, study finds

Southern white rhinos, the most abundant subspecies of the white rhino, are more social than other rhinos.
By Brooks Hays  |  March 8, 2018 at 9:37 AM
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March 8 (UPI) -- New research into the calls of young southern white rhinos suggest the rhinoceros calves boast a larger repertoire of vocalizations than previously thought.

As detailed in a new paper in the journal PLOS One, young southern white rhinos deploy four different vocalizations. Their choice of call depends on the behavioral context.

By comparing the calls of young rhinos to adults, scientists can gain a better understanding of how species learn to communicate. Researchers recorded the calls of eight rhino calves living in zoos in Germany, all between 1 and 4 years old. Seven of the eight were reared by their mother, while zookeepers hand-reared the eighth.

Their observations and recordings revealed four unique calls: a whine, snort, threat and pant.

Whines, used to express hunger for mom's milk, were deployed less frequently as the rhinos matured. Snorts, threats and pants were used in different social contexts.

The hand-reared rhino used vocalizations similar to the others in the same range of social scenarios, suggesting at least some of the animal's communication abilities are inborn.

Southern white rhinos, the most abundant subspecies of the white rhino, are more social than other rhinos. The additional time young rhinos spend with their moms might encourage more dynamic communication abilities.

"Our study provides first systematic data on vocal communication of infant and juvenile white rhinoceros and first evidence that there is a strong innate component to the development of vocal usage and production in white rhinoceros," Sabrina Linn, researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, said in a news release.

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