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Female rhinos reach sexual maturity around 3 years of age, but males aren’t ready for breeding until around 7. The mating process is typical of most large mammals: The male mounts the female from behind and attempts to penetrate her quickly. But the courtship ritual that precedes that mating is anything but typical. It’s violent, dangerous and complicated.
Female rhinos ovulate once every 28 days and are receptive to males for one or two days out of the cycle. However, a female will only ovulate away from her mother. If mom’s about, the daughter will simply not ovulate and will therefore not get any male attention.
Males start the courtship rituals among themselves. They mark territory with dung to let other males know that they lay claim to a certain area and therefore to any receptive females within it. This is most typically a precursor to the main pre-courtship event.
When a female is receptive, males will detect this via her scent. This is when the fun begins. In order to earn the right to mate with the female, the males will fight each other. These fights can be brutal, and injuries are common. Once a particular male has established himself as the worthy suitor, it’s down to the lady to do the chasing.
Once the female is aware of which male she prefers to mate with, she’ll start the courtship ritual. She vocalizes, creating a whistling sound. If she's submerged, this whistling sound can appear much like the rhino is blowing bubbles. Along with whistling, she’ll start to follow the male around. She may spray scent behind her as she goes,, to warn off any other females that she’s with her man and they better step back.
When it’s clear that romance is on the cards, the female will be begin actively chasing her man before what is called a "bluff and bluster" ritual, which can last for hours. During this ritual, which is a kind of foreplay, things can get a little intense, with the male thrashing his head aggressively. It can lead to the pair wrestling and fighting prior to copulation, often biting and butting each other. The courtship ritual is dangerous and exhausting for both rhinos. In some cases, the injuries sustained in this period can be fatal. A male rhino at Dhaka Zoo in Bangladesh is believed to have been killed by his mate during the courtship ritual.
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