And here is the thing about rhinoceri: They can be remarkably stubborn.

Now it is true that Africa is home to several innately stubborn animals. Lions are not particularly stubborn unless their spouses are involved. The honey badger is not so much stubborn as it is hell-bent on destruction. Its obstinacy relates more to the fact that it, as a species, reviles life’s opinion of itself. Honey badgers have survived for thousands of years on that lonely cliff edge known as the brink of madness, jumping at any opportunity to slash at a strong wind. Stubborn? Yes. But only as a side effect of hereditary psychosis. On the other hand, the hippopotamus, wildebeest, yak, leopard, shrieking eel and rhinoceros are very stubborn creatures – in many cases dim but otherwise sane.

A rhino has evolved a large horn on its face, not due to an obscure mating ritual or for defensive purposes but because rhinoceri, as a rule, do not stop trotting once they start. Several hundred years of rhinos smashing their faces flat on mountains, trees, boulders, elephants and each other saw all but the most calloused-nosed survive to breed the next generation.

This state of affairs is not completely the rhinos’ fault.

A rhinoceros can only travel in a straight line. It is a limitation of the knees, mainly, and somewhat of the hips and haunches. Rhinos also have very poor eyesight, but as they tend to be too stubborn to visit doctors and usually destroy any phoropter they come into contact with, they are unable to obtain prescription glasses. Instead, a rhino navigates mainly via the prompting of the Buphagus Africanus, commonly known as the oxpecker, a coffee colored bird that perches on the rhino’s back and eats the parasites that infest its leathery skin.

It has taken many generations of birds and rhinos to perfect this mutualistic symbiosis, with the greater portion of effort falling squarely in the birds’ camp. Make no mistake, the oxpecker is gregarious by nature, outgoing and considerate, but the buffet of ticks and lice available from the common rhino make the arrangement too cherry to pass up. For the small price of putting up with the rhino’s atavistic prejudices and bellicose predilections, a flock of oxpeckers can feed for weeks. And in general the birds give fine advice (though it should be mentioned that no oxpecker has ever suggested a rhino visit a dermatologist).

Because the rhino is by nature stubborn, the oxpeckers generally tend to stroke one’s ego in order to get it to move about from place to place, usually in search of shade or a mate – when the creature’s kvetching reaches heights even birds dare not condone. Sometimes the birds, fattened on ticks and drunk on their own charisma, will adulate a rhino into an obstruction. This can run the gamut in Africa from fellow rhinos to termite mounds. The resulting crash will often change the rhino’s trajectory. Thus far it is the only known method of getting a rhino to turn aside.

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