Sumatran rhino songs related to whales.

National News – February 23, 2007

Novan Iman Santosa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The homecoming of 5-year-old Sumatran rhinoceros Andalas from the U.S. brings to light the fact that, like whales, Sumatran rhinos can “sing”.
Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, president of the Hillsborough, North Carolina-based Fauna Communications Research Institute, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that publicizing the fact that Sumatran rhinos also sing may contribute to efforts to protect this endangered species.

“The way rhinos and whales sing is very similar, nearly identical,” she said by phone from Hillsborough.
“This shows that whales and rhinos might be closely related. It could be said that rhinos are whales on land.”

The bioacoustics expert said she had been working with Andalas, born in the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001, since the calf was 6-months-old until he was moved to Los Angeles Zoo. Von Muggenthaler has been working on rhino vocalization since 1992.
Out of four rhino species, only Sumatran rhinos can sing. “The Indian, African black and white rhinos do not sing. We do not know anything about Javan rhinos because none are in captivity,” she said.
When asked why only Sumatran rhinos sing, von Muggenthaler offered the suggestion that genetically Sumatran rhinos are the oldest of the species.
Three Sumatran rhinos, one male and two female, were recorded “singing” at the Cincinnati Zoo for a total of six hours in March, 2001.
According to a paper co-authored by von Muggenthaler, rhinos are exceptionally vocal, even producing sounds when they are eating. Results indicate that there are three main types of vocalizations, strung together to form a constant “song”. The three calls are described as eeps, whistle blows and whales. The whale call is named so because it sounds similar to the song of the humpback whale.
The paper was published by the Acoustical Society of America at the American Institute of Physics and can also be found online at

Von Muggenthaler hoped once the fact that Sumatran rhinos were able to sing was widely known, people would start protecting the species. Rhinos are poached for the powder in their horns.
Andalas arrived here Monday and was immediately transferred to the 100-hectare Way Kambas rhino sanctuary in Lampung.

“I support Andalas’ repatriation to the sanctuary as it provides a genuine breeding population.
“But people need also to understand that this creature is singing the songs of the forest,” Von Muggenthaler said.

A spokesman at the Forestry Ministry, Masyhud, said he was unaware of the ability of Sumatran rhinos to sing.

“I haven’t heard any rhinos ‘singing’. But nevertheless, we will carry out our conservation plans for all rhinos, whether they can sing or not.”

Taken with kind permission from:

Fauna Communications Research Institute, founded in 1992, is a non-profit Institute dedicated to the study of animal communication.

Published in: on May 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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