MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Why are rhinos in the wild known to stomp out fires?

Date: Tue Dec 7 09:18:08 1999
Posted By: Dawn Nelson, Faculty, Biology, Environmental Studies, Warren Wilson College
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 941512514.Zo

Why do rhinos stomp out fires? This reminds me of a pair of similar questions:
"Why do ducks have flat feet?"
...........Answer: To help stomp out forest fires.
"Why do rhinos have flat feet?"
..........Answer: To help stomp out flaming ducks.
I'm not a rhino expert, and am not "up" on the latest rhino literature, but thinking of animal behavior in general, I have a hard time believing in Smokey the rhino. Behavioral traits will only survive if they help an animal (or its genes) to survive - thus allowing the trait to be passed onto offspring. Even altruistic behavior (where one animal seems to sacrifice itself for the good of others), is still basically selfish. Altrusim is generally found in large animal groups where individuals are closely related. Thus, even if you sacrifice yourself, many of your genes still live on in others - including the genes that were ultimately responsible for your altruistic behavior - and so altrusim will remain in the population. Rhinos don't live in large family groups, so it's unlikely that many individuals sharing genes will benefit from fire stomping - which would certainly put the stomper at risk of injury! Plus, rhinos can run very fast, so a better response to a fire threat would simply be to run away. Now, rhinos will charge people to defend themselves, their territory, their calves.

And a campfire is a sure advertisement that "a human being is here!". So, perhaps rhinos sometimes charge people at campfires, trampling the flames in the process. The Mad Scientist Gurus suggest a neat rhino scorce to check out:

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