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Dung heaps are rhinos’ Facebook

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Rhinos signal gender, age, and sexual availability in their poo, said on a study which suggested mammals may use communal dung heaps as social networking sites.

It is well known that animals communicate via chemical messages transmitted in urine – think of dogs marking their territory – but the data-transmitting role of dung, another waste product, has been unclear.

A trio of scientists from South Africa and Germany extracted air from around dung pats of free-roaming white rhinos in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal, then analyzed the scent in the lab.

The team recreated the signature dung smell of territorial males and of females in heat, then spread the synthetic odors around the park to mimic fresh poo deposits.

As expected, free-roaming territorial males, which are solitary, displayed different behaviors in response to distinct smells.

When the odor was that of an intruder bull, the males revisited the dung pile often to keep close tabs on the movements of a potential territorial rival, sometimes assuming a “vigilance posture”. (AFP)

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