Rhinos face severe threats in the wild, so understanding their social and breeding behaviours is becoming increasingly important in order to conserve this species. Becky has spent her time with Chester Zoo studying our eight eastern black rhinos and recording their scent marking behaviours.
Scent communication is an important factor in the social lives of many species, and often plays an important role in breeding success. Becky watched 480 hours of video footage of our rhinos using our CCTV cameras to get an idea of how they use scent to communicate. She found that urine spraying was a very important part of communication between the rhinos; when they moved habitat or another individual was introduced, the urine spraying increased. Becky says:
If you are a zoo looking at mixing male and female rhinos, then giving them access to each other’s scent to allow them to get that bit of information about each other before they actually meet is really important! That way once they are introduced in the same habitat they are not strangers and already know about each other.
Becky’s results suggest that urine spraying is not only a way of the rhinos marking their territory, but is also a ‘scent cue’ used to inform other rhinos who else is in the area. She found that these scent cues were likely to increase when the rhinos were sexually active in order to attract a mate.