White rhinos have a mutual relationship with cattle egret and Cape sterling, as the birds remove disease-causing insects and parasites from the rhinos’ hide.
White rhinos have a mutualistic relationship with cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) and Cape starling (Lamprotornis nitens). These birds feed on the insects and parasites that are present in the hide and on the back of the rhinoceroses.
Initially, red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) were also thought to have a mutualistic relationship with the rhinoceroses, however, recent studies suggested that these oxpeckers actually prolonged the healing time of wounds and removed earwax, rather than feeding and reducing ticks that are on the skin.
One of the parasites the birds feed on is ticks. There are 14 species of ticks recovered from the body of white rhinoceroses, which include Amblyomma rhinocerotis, Dermacentor rhinoceros, Hyalomma truncatum, and Rhipicephalus maculatus. Parasites such as piroplasms, which are blood-borne protozoans parasites, have been associated with the disease, such as babesiosis, in white rhinoceroses, which can be fatal sometimes. 66% of individuals of white rhinos in one study, tested exhibited infection from one species of piroplasm (Theileria bicornis). Furthermore, the infection of this parasite was not associated with age, sex, or location. The infection of these parasitic protozoans has contributed to exponential decreases of white rhinos.
• Image | © Lawrence Lew, Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
• Sources | (Dulal, 2017; Govender, Oosthuisen, & Penzhorn, 2011; Groves, 1972; Otiende, et al., 2015; Penzhorn, et al., 1994; Waldram, Bond, & Stock, 2008)