The rhino as fire marshall

The myth in The Gods Must Be Crazy

Rhinos scatter their dung with their back feet as a territorial marker.
  • Rhinos scatter their dung with their back feet as a territorial marker.
  • Image by Rick Geary

Matmail: This weekend we rented the 1980 film The Gods Must Be Crazy. In this film the rhinoceros is depicted as being the “self-appointed fire marshal of the veldt,” and one is actually seen stamping out two campfires that he comes upon. Is this true? — Steve Terry, the Net

The movie’s occasional off-camera, documentary-style narration did lend a note of authenticity to the campfire interlude. But according to several rhino preservation groups who’ve been asked this question many times since the film appeared, there’s no documented or even anecdotal evidence that rhinos seek campfires and extinguish them. Black rhinos like the one in the film do thunder through the brush at night and do travel well-used trails that are also followed by humans. So maybe one blundered onto a campfire and put it out as he passed through. Who knows. There are lots of myths and fanciful tales about rhinos. It is known that rhinos dig for water and scatter their dung with their back feet as a territorial marker. But that’s about the fanciest thing they do with those big three-toed feet. Rhinos’ nasal apparatus takes up more space in their heads than do their brains; when they smell danger, they usually head the other way. The most logical conclusion we can draw is that the producers must be crazy.

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