Wildlife photographer Zaheer Ali recently traveled to the forests of South Africa to take a series of photographs. He never expected to witness an unexpected friendship between species in nature that day. He first noticed a rhinoceros resting peacefully in the grass, and then he took a closer look.
“I watched as this tiny bird sharpened his beak on the horn of the rhino and it was something I’d never seen before,” Ali said in a Zali Safari blog post. “I picked up my camera and waited for the right moment and took the shot as the bird lay on the horn of the rhino.”
On the rhinocero’s head sat a bird – or rather, a red-billed buffalo starling. At first, there was nothing special, and the bird just sat there, but after a moment it snuggled up to the rhinoceros in the cutest way, as if showing its love. It turned out that these species actually have a special relationship in nature.
These starlings often sit on the backs and heads of black rhinos. They are even called “guardians” of rhinos. Actually, the red-billed starling’s Swahili name is “askari wa kifaru,” which translates to “guardian of the rhinoceros.” The small birds feed on mites and fly larvae on the rhinoceros’ tough skin, ridding the animal of unwanted parasites.
In addition, red-billed starlings compensate for rhinoceroses’ poor eyesight by warning them of danger. Scientists have found that when the birds detect people approaching, for example, they make a sharp warning sound or hiss. Rhinoceroses realize at that moment that they need to be more vigilant. It even helps threatened rhinos avoid poachers who go after their horns.