water is life
Seasonal rains and patterns of water flow around the Okavango Delta in Botswana influence the rhinos’ behaviour as they move around in search of the best food, shade and mud wallows.
The rains come to an end in March, but there’s still plenty of greenery around, so both species of rhino continue to eat well. The best quality grazing lawns are where we look for the white rhinos. A peak in births sometimes coincides with this period of plenty.
During the rainy season, there’s lots of fresh, young grass and browse available for the rhinos. The blacks move out into the floodplains nibbling low-growing herbs and forbs from among the grass, while the white rhinos munch contentedly on the lush carpet of short, green grass.
As the weather turns warmer, the floodwaters recede and the plains begin to dry out. The rhinos and other herbivores venture out into the open to take advantage of the fresh green grass and succulent browse, enriched by moisture from the high groundwater levels during the floods.
The floodwaters from Angola arrive in the Okavango Delta around May. The water spreads out across the floodplains, depositing nutrient-rich topsoil and pushing the rhinos onto higher land. When the floods recede, this enrichment will create a flush of succulent grass – a favourite for the white rhinos.
These are the harshest months for the rhinos. There’s little browse left and the grass has all been grazed or scorched by the sun, so the rhinos start to lose condition. They seek out shade and rest up during the day, then move around at night, when it’s cooler, in search of food.
By early November, the first rains have arrived, resulting in a flush of food as acacias flower and early grass shoots. The rhinos start putting on condition and even get a bit frisky. At this time of year, conflict between bulls may increase and more females are in good condition, so mating activity may increase.