• Florian Weise

The Wildlife Facebook

Most large mammals enjoy a good scratch, rhinos especially after a mud bath. To find out more about this behaviour, we video-monitored a well-rubbed tree stump located on a path to one of Ongava’s main waterholes. And not only did the cameras record animals scratching themselves, something else seemed to happen there. In less than three months, we recorded over 500 wildlife visits involving 30 different mammal species. Individual visits sometimes lasted over 30 minutes with animals displaying a variety of behaviour. While most ungulates merely passed by, 17 species, including carnivores and others with well-developed olfactory senses, regularly approached and sniffed the stump intently, as if to obtain information. Some, such as African wild cat and Porcupine, even marked the stump, thus leaving a message for others.




Much as ourselves, social animals pass on information from one individual to another, perhaps even between species. Humans use speech and written scripture to convey information, and nowadays connect through digital chatrooms on social media domains. In the animal kingdom, communication typically uses vocalisations, visual signals and scents put on strategic places, such as on this stump. The astonishing number of visits and different kinds of animals smelling it suggest that the stump is not only a comfortable rubbing post, but also important to transfer scent messages. Our knowledge about cross-species communication is still in its infancy, so whether this stump is indeed a wildlife chatroom remains to be seen. We also still need to sniff out exactly what the animals might be telling each other…