Changes in social dominance in a group of subadult white rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum) after dehorning

Samuel Penny, Maxim Withey, Rachel White, Dawn Scott, Lynne M. MacTavish, Angelo Pernetta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In many social species physical attributes correlate with dominance rankings and influence the outcomes of dyadic interactions. We investigated the processes that affect white rhinoceros’ social behaviour in response to a reduction in horn size asymmetries within a group of subadult individuals. We monitored agonistic social interactions and the orderliness of social rankings between six free ranging rhinoceroses before and after they underwent a second dehorning procedure. We used a modified version of Landau’s h’ to measure linearity, a score of steepness to measure power asymmetry, and a measure of triangle transitivity to assess relationships in the presence of null dyads. Agonistic social interactions were significantly greater after the monitored dehorning procedure. Hierarchies possessed significant steepness and transitivity prior to the procedure, but not after. Linearity was non-significant and rank order did not correspond with changes in horn size or age. Our results provide the first evidence of a dominance hierarchy among free-ranging white rhinoceroses outside of reproductive competition, but indicate that physical attributes alone do not explain social rankings. Rhinoceroses transitioned to a more egalitarian dominance structure than a despotic one after the procedure, but dominance ranks were only weakly differentiated within the group. Although a reduction in horn asymmetries may increase agonistic behaviours via psychosocial or behavioural changes, drier climatic conditions cannot be ruled out as the causative factor and because the subadult group stayed together, rather than dispersing, any increased fitness costs are likely to be minimal and outweighed by the benefits of group membership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-42
Number of pages10
JournalAfrican Zoology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022


  • rhinoceros
  • dominance hierarchy
  • horn size
  • social behaviour
  • South Africa


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