Why termites are a rhino’s best friend

Did you know that black rhinos are couch potatoes? They like to stay in one place and not move around too much. Well, why would they? In the dry season, they have all the ingredients for an almost perfect black rhino existence on the islands that stud the Okavango Delta.

For the past few months, the Delta has been inundated with floodwater, and many of our rhinos have been living on inaccessible islands. Amazingly, every island has, at its heart, a termite mound. Termites live in large colonies, the workers building elaborate waterproof towers made of soil, chewed wood and saliva.

When the floods arrive, these mounds are often the only land above water level. As such, they provide a useful vantage point for passing birds and mammals. The visitors often leave a calling card in the form of faeces and the seeds in their dung take root, growing into nutritious grasses.

Over time, more plants colonise the termite mounds as the rushing waters of the flood deposit seeds on their margins – and in this way an island forms and grows in size. Eventually neighbouring islands join up to form larger land masses, which may support big trees – and even our rhinos!

A wide variety of nutritious vegetation (“browse”) grows on these islands. With a fresh wild menu ranging from the ubiquitous fever berry bushes through small lead woods and sickle bushes to the delicious (if you are a browser like our black rhinos) berried blue bush, our black rhinos have no need to ever leave.

Even when the floodplains are inundated with water, it’s seldom deeper than the nose of a black rhino. So they can – if they so wish – hop from island to island.

By mid-October the floodplains will once more be dry grasslands. Fed by soil and nutrients deposited by the water, the new grass will be lush, thick and irresistible to our white rhinos. Isn’t nature amazing?!

Thanks to Neil Aldridge for these awesome photos.

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