War rhinos

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So, at last, it's that war rhinos post you've all been waiting for...

Remember that all the things I promise will appear eventually, it's just that these things take time. Tetrapod Zoology is becoming an increasingly active site that now generally gets over 1000 hits a day, so to all those who visit regularly, and to those who leave comments, many thanks. Please note that I'm starting to expand the about me section of the site: I've recently added a list of publications and will be adding links to pdfs as and when they become available. On the subject of things becoming available, those of you interested in the historical literature will be pleased to hear that several of my colleagues - namely Matt Wedel, Randy Irmis and Mike P. Taylor - have recently scanned, converted to pdf, and made available a huge list of publications by O. C. Marsh. They're available, free, here. Knock yourself out. Anyway, to business.

This week the Warner Brothers movie 300 opens in the UK (if you're elsewhere in the world you may already have seen it). Based on Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel, it's a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae and is not meant to be historically accurate. But regardless of what you make of the film (and I haven't seen it yet so am not exactly in the best position to discuss its merits or otherwise), one area that has got a lot of people talking concerns the use in the film of armoured war rhinos. The idea that species belonging to one of the most fantastic and awesome groups of living mammals might have been trained, armour-plated and employed as living tanks in warfare is, to put it mildly, exciting, and it has certainly grabbed my interest.

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Given the film's extremely loose attachment to historical reality, the fact that armoured war rhinos appear in 300 may or may not mean anything, but of course this isn't the only place where the concept of the war rhino has appeared. Having looked into the area a bit, I can report that there's good news, and there's bad news. Followers of Tetrapod Zoology will by now be familiar with most of the arguments, pro and con, given the long and edifying exchange that various of you have had in the comments section of the previous teaser post. So let's hope that I can add at least something new and that all the many cats haven't been let out of their many bags...

Most people are familiar with the use of elephants in combat. What's not so widely appreciated is that elephants belonging to all three living species have been used in warfare. Nubians and Egyptians used the African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis, the Macedonians, Seleucids and Vedics used the Asian elephant Elephas maximus, and the African bush elephant L. africana was apparently used by the Egyptians and possibly the Carthaginians. Note that there is still a considerable amount of controversy as to which civilization used which species, as the evidence for these identifications is often based on unreliable artwork and old confused accounts (Spinage 1994). Anyway, I'll stop there as it would be all too easy to spin off at a tangent and concentrate on war elephants.

Far less well known is the possibility that rhinos may have been used in warfare too, but not only is this idea poorly known, it is also considered highly doubtful by most who have considered it. As I've said, there's good news and there's bad news. We begin with the good news: namely, that there are at least a few references, here and there in the literature, to the possible existence of war rhinos. As we'll see, they are all, sadly, generally problematical. That's the bad news.

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We begin with two early renditions of what are apparently collar-wearing rhinos, though how they are interpreted is very much open to debate. In 1616 Ulisse Aldrovandi published a drawing of an animal that he termed Asinus cornutus, the horned ass. Aldrovandi had received this drawing from Joachim Camerarius in May 1595; it depicts a two-horned rhino seen some years prior in Constantinople, and apparently collected from Egypt (Rookmaaker 2005). The interesting thing about the rhino is that it's clearly wearing a collar. A second image, printed on a seal, comes from the late Harappan phase of the Indus Valley civilization. Without doubt it depicts an Indian one-horned rhino Rhinoceros unicornis [see adjacent image], but what makes the image unusual is that the animal appears to have a trough, and have a rope around its neck. These features have led some to conclude that the Indian rhino was 'a domesticated animal' in the Indus Valley civilization (Lahiri-Choudhury 1991). I'm far from convinced. What is interpreted as a rope doesn't really look like one - it instead looks more like a defect on the seal. Unfortunately I can't find a copy of this image on the web, so you'll have to trust me here, but it's not tremendously different from the Harappan seal image that you can see at the top of the article.

Do these images of collared rhinos tell us anything about domestication as has been implied? The undoubted collar on Aldrovandi's rhino is highly curious, but it doesn't tell us anything about what relationship this animal had with the people that owned it. We just don't have that information. And despite Lahiri-Choudhury's claim that the rhino depicted on the Harappan seal was domesticated, the evidence is highly dubious and, even if a rope really is depicted, it doesn't tell us anything about whether, and how, this animal was used. There's no reason to think even that a tamed, collar-wearing rhino is anything to do with the use of that animal in warfare, but I hope you agree that I just had to mention these historical snippets.

Having mentioned Indian one-horned rhinos, of interest is that the next bit of evidence - a small piece of text from a highly dubious source - also pertains to this species. The dubious source is wikipedia's entry on 'military animals' (viz, the historical use of animals in combat). According to the article, Indian rhinos were used in warfare by the Ahom people of Assam. Apparently...

Rhinos would be made to drink alchohol to make them inebirated [sic] and then made to charge against any arriving troops. Any well formed infantry or cavalry would be instantly decimated. Their thick skin also gave them protection from archers.

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Curiously enough, this fantastic bit of information was uncredited and requests for a citation went unheeded. I've been unable to find this information repeated anywhere in the literature, and so has everyone one, so the relevant chunk of text has since been removed. Wikipedia also mentioned some other stuff about historical renditions of armour-wearing rhinos, but it seems safest to assume that it was speculative and not evidence-based. Indeed it was suggested in the same article that the armour plating shown on the one-horned rhino illustrated by Albrecht Durer in 1515 (or thereabouts) might be based on an interpretation of real, metallic armour (Durer's rhino is shown in the adjacent image). It seems far more likely that Durer's rhino owes its bizarre appearance to Durer's elaborate style. Insert criticism of wikipedia here [then again, these problematic bits of text have been removed, so insert praise of wikipedia here].

A similarly speculative appearance of armoured war rhinos comes from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Diamond (1997) mentions the idea of rhino-mounted Bantu shock troops battling against Romans, but not because he thinks it might have happened. Rather, because it never happened. His point was that rhinos cannot be domesticated and used in war but that, if they had, then Bantus might have had cultural supremacy over their European neighbours, though this is highly arguable of course.

So, aside from a few possibly irrelevant or erroneous pictures of collar-wearing rhinos, some highly dubious text deleted from wikipedia, and a bit of colourful speculation, what do we have? Nothing. In desperation, I asked world rhino expert Kees Rookmaaker. He hadn't heard of any of the dubious claims I had come across, most notably the alleged use of war rhinos by the Ahom people. He did, however, have this to say...

In my book, The rhinoceros in captivity (1998, p. 29), I refer to a statement by Fernao Mendes Pinto who says that during their siege of Peking in July 1544, the army of the Kings of the Tartars included "four score thousand rhinoceroses."

Holy crap - real live genuine war rhinos! However.... he went on to explain that...

A modern edition translates the word used "banda", which usually means rhinoceros, as yaks. That would be the more likely proposition.

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D'oh! So I conclude that there is no historical evidence whatsoever for the use of rhinos in combat. Not exactly a conclusion that many of you will be surprised about, but worth stating nonetheless. Why haven't rhinos ever been trained for use in combat? It isn't true that rhinos can't be tamed, or trained. Some captive White rhinos Ceratotherium simum have become incredibly tame, and there have been specimens at zoos, game parks and circuses that have become affectionate, friendly and altogether very co-operative. In The White Rhino Saga, Ian Player discusses and includes photos of a White rhino that was trained to lie down when a radio was played (Player 1972). These observations all negate the idea that rhinos can't be trained.

But it appears that rhinos cannot be trained to serve as mounts, nor do they apparently have a psychology that allows them to be trained to do the sorts of things that horses and elephants will do. I'm not entirely sure why this is: is it because rhinos are less smart than the other mammals trained for use in combat? Or is it because rhinos are less flexible, behaviourally, than these other species? I don't know if intelligence is important here, as Moose Alces alces are relatively intelligent, yet efforts to train them for use in combat were unsuccessful (Geist 1999).

Despite best efforts then, I have spectacularly failed to find any compelling evidence for war rhinos, and indeed there are reasons for thinking that this might not have happened because it couldn't happen. Of course, I'd love to be proved wrong. Bring it on.

Right, leaving soon for that British big cats conference. News on that soon, followed by stuff on rhinogradentians (yes, really), bizarre cetaceans, sebecosuchians, non-avian theropods, Triassic crurotarsans and so on and on and on.

Refs - -

Diamond, J. 1997. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W. W. Norton & Co., New York.

Geist, V. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury.

Lahiri-Choudhury, D. K. 1991. Indian myths and history. In Eltringham, S. K. & Ward, D. (consultants). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Elephants. Crescent Books (New York), pp. 130-147.

Player, I. 1972. The White Rhino Saga. Collins, London.

Rookmaaker, L. C. 2005. Review of the European perception of the African rhinoceros. Journal of Zoology 265, 365-376.

Spinage, C. A. 1994. Elephants. T & A D Poyser, London.

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My guess is that rhinos are relatively solitary animals, while horses and elephants are herd animals. It's easier to make a herd animal do something, by subverting the dominance behaviours.

I think it's very unlikely that rhinos were ever trained and used as mounts, in a crowd of other animals. Unlike elephants and horses, they're not herd or social animals.

Also, if you compare the top illustration with the photo of rhinos below, the rope-like collar might just be the double wrinkle on the rhino's neck. A rhino in captivity also might be tied and fed while awaiting the next gladitorial combat or parade.

What is a "rhinogradentian?" Google searches just bring up your "next time on Tetrapod Zoology" posts.

By Christopher Co… (not verified) on 21 Mar 2007 #permalink

My dead ends in research include the term RINO, which turns out to mean Republican In Name Only, as contrasted with DINO (Democrat In Name Only) and LINO (Libertarian In Name Only).

Not the only biological Fantasy in "The 300" -- a film that my wife, son, and I all enjoyed. How tall was Xerxes? How big were those elephants, or were they left over mammoths or the things from Lord of the Rings?

So, it's not unlikely that Durer would have influenced the Graphic Novels of Frank Miller.

Thnaks for your investigative results!

Neat article.

Perhaps relevant: rhinos & tapirs are individualistic, horses & dogs & elephants are socialistic; war is socialistic activity requiring socialistic-minded participants (harem style herds or matriarchial herds). Cats are individualistic (except lions), good for hunting but not war. I guess that means lions could possibly have been trained as warriors, but it would be a tricky power balancing act.

Melbourne National Gallery owns a bunch of Dürer prints, so I've actualy seen the famour Rhinoceros (the original print, as I recall, is maybe a foot to 18 inches wide). As horn-counter's will have noted, it's an Indian rhinoceros: the Latin caption on the print says the animal itself was a gift to the King of Portugal and had come from India. The museum's note suggested that Dürer himself probably didn't see the animal: that he was working from a description (and maybe sketch?) by someone else. Given that, I think it is a startlingly naturalistic and accurate portrayal of an Indian Rhinoceros: even the weirder features of the image, when compared to photos, usually correspond to some feature of the actual animal. The scales on the legs may look odd, but a photo I found shows -- I don't know what, they look like giant warts -- on the legs of at least one I.R., and the scales could easily have been an effort to portray something described as, say, "the skin on the legs has round bumps on it."
The image has had a bad press: it is often used as an example of how "artists are influenced by culturally transmitted schemata" (this starts with art historian E.H. Gombrich's book "Art and Illusion," which prints Dürer's image next to a photo of an African rhinoceros; Gombricht's discussion and illustrations were repeated by philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend in his "Problems of Empiricism"). Compare the print to a good photo (or, since there are individual differences, a bunch of photos-- some features may be clearer on some individuals than others) of the RIGHT species of rhinoceros, and you come away impressed by how naturalistic D's picture is!

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 22 Mar 2007 #permalink

"My guess is that rhinos are relatively solitary animals, while horses and elephants are herd animals. It's easier to make a herd animal do something, by subverting the dominance behaviours."

Spot on comment, the more social animals are much easier to train in human ways, a lot of people miss this point.

Fernao Mendes Pinto? I read Peregrinacao a long time ago, still have it at home. I vaguely remember the part when he is captured by the tartars while forced to work at the Great Wall. I don't remember anything about rhinos, though. I'll check it.

War tapirs?

My understanding is that the Dürer rhino is indeed (widely assumed to have been) inspired my metallic armour - but not rhino armour. As Allen Hazen says above, Dürer was (probably) working from a description, and if your description says something like "plates of armour" you're likely to draw something that looks like the armour (for men and horses) that you're familiar with.

I'm inclined to make the 'sociality'argument too. But note that wikipedia reports female and sub-adult male white rhinos forming matriarchal groups of up to 14 animals. Then again, wikipedia doesn't appear to be the source for solid rhino facts.

I read Jared Diamond's book and agree with him. If rhino's had been successfully domesticated there would be more evidence of it and history would be different as a result. One of the main points of his book is that the societies we have today were influenced by the animals that could be domesticated and where this occurred.

Also, I would think that the poor vision of rhinos would be an impediment to being a war mount.

Christopher asked "What is a "rhinogradentian?"

Seems to be rather a specialist field. Without wanting to anticipate Darren's eagerly awaited article, you could check out Harald Stumpke, Anatomie Et Biologie Des Rhinogrades Un Nouvel Ordre De Mammiferes. Masson, France (1962).

Taming also depends on the species. I used to know the keeper at London Zoo who hand reared our female black rhino Rosie, and she was always very careful around her, and never entered the enclosure with her.

Whites and Indians are naturally far more docile so I wouldn't rule them out as domestic animals.

Christopher said:
What is a "rhinogradentian?" Google searches just bring up your "next time on Tetrapod Zoology" posts.

I googled "rhinogradentian," and like you, got a long list of Tetrapod Zoology hits. However, it also asked me if I wanted to search for "rhinogradentia." Try that....

Nubians and Egyptians used the African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis

Oho! What's the evidence for this?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 22 Mar 2007 #permalink

Can you post a bit more about the attempts to train moose for combat? This has piqued my interest.

By Rap Enthusiast (not verified) on 22 Mar 2007 #permalink

By the way...
Someone with deeper cryptozoological interest than I have (you can guess who I mean) might know the answer to something I've been curious about-- the reference to a possible depiction of a rhinoceros wearing a collar being an occasion.
Ned Colbert, in his autobiography, tells of writing a short article (in the 1930s) suggesting that a ??? Sumerian ??? Babylonian ??? image of a horned mammal in a collar might be evidence that Sivatherium might have survived long enough to have been seen, maybe captured, maybe even tamed, by early civilzed people in the Fertile Crescent. Is any more known about this? I think Christine Janis may have written about it, in a cryptozoological journal I can't find.
Stumpke's treatise on the rhinogradentians has been translated into English. There was a paperback reprint (University of Chicago Press?) a few years back. A work of great scholarship, in a field where-- alas-- further research is not to be anticipated.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 22 Mar 2007 #permalink

Ned Colbert, in his autobiography, tells of writing a short article (in the 1930s) suggesting that a ??? Sumerian ??? Babylonian ??? image of a horned mammal in a collar might be evidence that Sivatherium might have survived long enough to have been seen, maybe captured, maybe even tamed, by early civilzed people in the Fertile Crescent. Is any more known about this? I think Christine Janis may have written about it, in a cryptozoological journal I can't find.

Personally I prefer L. Sprague de Camp's suggestion that the image in question refers to an Okapi which was brought from Central Africa. I believe there are some pygmies in the same relief.

de Camp uses it in his historical novel "The Dragon of the Isthar Gate", which is wonderful fun if you're interested in cryptozoology or the Persian empire. (The hero is sent into the depths of Africa in search of a sirrush, the dragon-like creature depicted on the gate of Babalyon (sp!) )

By Rick Cook (not verified) on 22 Mar 2007 #permalink

I was reading a lot of older works on Indian wildlife recently and came across some vague reference to war rhinos. Ufortunately can't remember where! But I'm pretty sure no solid evidence was offered.

E.P. Gee did mention how tame Indian Rhinos can become. And there is a reason the Indians might have tried to use rhinos in this way: elephants are apparently afraid of them.

By James Blake (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

The piece in Wikipedia about the gregariousness of White Rhinoceros is quite correct, though the largest group I've seen contained 9 animals. Actually their social structure (lone adult males, groups of young males and females) is rather similar to the African Elephant's.

As for Dürers Indian Rhinoceros, it's not such a bad depiction really. Their very thick hide with marked folds really does look a bit like armor.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

I once read that the rhino drawn by Dürer (who actually has never seen it himself) had probably large amounts of horny skin, as a result of the long time it was caged, when it was brought to Europe. Even if this would not explain the small horn and some other traits, it could make sense. Albrecht Dürer was a great artist and his drawings and painting of animals are in general as life-like as possible, so it is most probably that he used another artwork, which was made by a lesser-skilled artist.

Ok, I found the reference in Fernão Mendes Pinto writings. This would be "badas" and not "bandas". They are refereed to as animals seen in the countryside during the voyage from Nanjing to Beijing. The identity of the animal is not clear, it is not a cow, buffalo, donkey or horse for those are given in the same list. They were indeed used by the Tartars in warfare. This is the passage:

"and they left with 80,000 badas who brought all the food and all the luggage"

So these were beasts of burden.

Thank you Tengu - would anyone like to buy me that book :) It would mean me adding an update on this subject in future, of course.

Allen, the references on sivatheres you might have in mind include...

Greenwell, J. R. 1994. Early history, late giraffe. BBC Wildlife 12 (12), 48.

Janis, C. M. 1990. Sivatherium defended. Cryptozoology 9, 111-115.

Reese, D. S. 1990. Paleocryptozoology and archaeology: a sivathere no longer. Cryptozoology 9, 100-107.

The evidence (a Sumerian sculpture from Iraq) suggests that sivatheres survived until more recently than usually thought (viz, to about 8000 years ago), but there is no evidence of a collar.

Yes, this possible Sivatherium-depictions are really interesting. I´ve heard about it already some time ago, but could not find any picture of those objects. The very best thing I ever read about this topic was a creationist who wrote that Sivatherium was an animal with a single horn on the head, and that a skeleton of this animal is known from an ancient archaeological site, and he also mentions this old artwork...have I to mention that this was in relation to mentions of unicorns in the bible?

I'll email you some photos - I use them in one of my hoofed mammal talks. Was planning to blog about sivatheres some time by the way...

Thank you very much Darren! As you probably know I am very interested in recently extinct megafauna, and although the sivathere-artworks dates comparably long back in time, it is still very interesting, because it was a time when the first real civilisations occured. By the way, do you know about the very recently survival of stegodons in China?

> By the way, do you know about the very recently survival of stegodons
in China?

German Wikipedia (admittedly not the most scientific of sources)claims that the most recent stegodon remains, found in the Xiaohe Cave in Yunnan, are only 4.000 years old. They cite Ma & Tang as a source.
But they also claim that the tusks of an old male stegodon were so large and stood so close together that the trunk wold no longer fit between them and had to be carried above the tusks or dangling down beside them, so I have a few doubts about their accuracy.

Ma & Tang (1992) reported Stegodon material that they dated to an unbelievable 4100 years ago (from the Neolithic Xiaohe Cave of Yunnan Province, China). This paper has been much cited in the recent literature as an exciting development and I have yet to see any indication that the record is doubtful [does anyone know otherwise?]. So apparently it's for real, meaning that these amazing proboscideans survived into modern times. The description of male Stegodon given above is dead accurate: unlike other proboscideans, stegodontid tusks were so close together at their bases that the trunk couldn't have hung between them. To put food in its mouth, a stegodontid would have to reach round and under its tusks, in an action quite unlike that performed by other trunked proboscideans.

Anyway, note that's it's not only mammoths that survived until surprisingly recently.

Ref - -

Ma, A. & Tang, H. 1992. On discovery and significance of a Holocene Ailuropoda-Stegodon fauna from Jinhua, Zhejiang. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 30, 295-312.

Yes, there was a whole bunch of elephant-like animals which survived until very recently, and could still be alive, but Stegodons were probably the most impressive of all (if you think a giant stegodon with monstrous tusks is more impressive than a pig-sized pet-elephant). Besides animals like the Tilos pygmy elephant I am especially interested in probable survival of Mastodons like Cuvierionius in mayan times. On the one hand such cases are fascinating, but on the other hand it is also frustating that we passed some really magnificent creatures for only a very short time.

Than you for the clarification, darren!

It seems that I was to rash to dismiss wikipedia (or its german branch) as a source. They actually got it right (I think we can forget about those 100 years). Anyway,the more elements of the megafauna survived into historic times, and the more strange and exotic they were, the better! Too bad that the Thai or Miao or whoever was living in Yunnan in the late Neolithic/ early bronze age left no written records.

Johannes, I knew of the late-surviving stegodons from the abstract of the original paper, but found it later also at Wikipedia. I once began a (still growing) list of megafauna which became extinct in historic times, what is for me about the time since the first real high-developed cultures like the egyptian civilisation appeared. Just have a look at it: http://extinctanimals.proboards22.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=di…
There are still many animals missing, not only some of the more popular species, but also several others like some pygmy ground sloths or several larger flightless birds.

War tapirs?

Personally, I'm holding out for the battle sloths.

I have a vague recollection that rhinos don't have very good vision. I can't see getting them drunk and expecting them to decimate the opponent troops and not your own.

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 28 Mar 2007 #permalink

I have a vague recollection that rhinos don't have very good vision. I can't see getting them drunk and expecting them to decimate the opponent troops and not your own.

Make them stampede in the right direction.

Is there a known way to scare a rhino...?

Ma & Tang (1992) reported Stegodon material that they dated to an unbelievable 4100 years ago (from the Neolithic Xiaohe Cave of Yunnan Province, China).
Ma, A. & Tang, H. 1992. On discovery and significance of a Holocene Ailuropoda-Stegodon fauna from Jinhua, Zhejiang. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 30, 295-312.

Are you sure this is the same reference? Yunnan and Zheijiang are two provinces on opposite ends of southern China...

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Mar 2007 #permalink

> Make them stampede in the right direction.

Easier said than done. The spanish tried this (with cattle) against
Drake and ca. 100 years later against Morgan, and failed both times.
The cattle came under musket fire, panicked, and crashed into the spanish, rather than the english, troops. Morgan's buccaneers were mostly veterans of the new model army, but Drake's soldiers were raw recruits. Even so,the "stampede" tactic did not work against them.

The spanish tried this (with cattle) against
Drake and ca. 100 years later against Morgan, and failed both times.

And then Drake's troops feasted on steak!

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 29 Mar 2007 #permalink

That is interesting. Didn't the font take the tone marks on Yunnan and Zhejiang? I'll try again: Yunnan, Zhejiang -- that last one is an a with a - on it.

[editorial note from Darren: I've taken to editing out accents (of all types) as the sb publishing platform does not recognise them. Your text above would be published as 'Y�nn�n, Zh�jiāng' if I left it as submitted by you]

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 29 Mar 2007 #permalink

"As animals were to play a large role in the production of the Tarzan films, they had to be rented, and specialists had to be hired to deal with them. Two names that became prominent in this regard are Bert Nelson and George Emerson. The former came from the A.G. Barnes Circus, and was to double Weissmuller wrestling a lion, which was also supplied by Nelson. The latter was hired by MGM as a full-time trainer, a unique position in a Hollywood studio, and he was assisted by Frank Leggitt, who had had some experience as an elephant handler. Other lions were leased from the Goebel Lion Farm in Thousand Oaks. A rhino named Mary was imported from Germany. She had the distinction of being "rideable." The obligatory elephant stampede, inspired from an earlier film, Chang (27), was filmed using Indian elephants with fake ears and elongated tusks. The chimpanzees who played Cheta came from a variety of sources. The first was named Emma (among others were Jiggs and descendants, Yama, Skippy, Jackie and Joe.) Most of the animals were leased from Emerson."~ http://www.geostan.ca/mgm.html

By Martin Evans (not verified) on 29 Mar 2007 #permalink

[editorial note from Darren: I've taken to editing out accents (of all types) as the sb publishing platform does not recognise them. Your text above would be published as 'Y�nn�n, Zh�jiāng' if I left it as submitted by you]

That's bizarre. Ordinary acute and grave accents on ordinary vowel letters, part of the orthography of languages like Spanish and French and therefore of ISO-8859-1, become Typical Miscoded Unicode Gunk, but the a with the macron, not part of that standard, is displayed correctly? Not to mention my name, which requires ISO-8859-2 or outright Unicode.

I can't wrap my mind around this.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 30 Mar 2007 #permalink

I wrote:

become Typical Miscoded Unicode Gunk

And then I cursed my stupidity and changed the coding in which I view this page from "Western European (ISO-8859-1)" to "Unicode (UTF-8)". Result? The letters with accents now display as squares, while the a with macron is still displayed correctly. The most parsimonious hypothesis is that we are dealing with a miracle.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 01 Apr 2007 #permalink

Hallo Darren!

Its not really about this topic, but as we were already talking about holocene megafauna extinctions, I wanted to ask you something. Do you have any idea how long dogs are used as companion animals in Africa? Because I made some reseach about Pelorovis antiquus and found a very interesting rock-painting (I dont know from where) which seems to show Pelorovis oldowayensis and some hunters with bows and dogs. I have found untill now only extinction dates of 800.000 years or so for this species. I dont know exactly how long dogs had been used in Africa, but I suppose it was not as long as in Europe, and perhaps P. oldowayensis became also extinct comparably recently.

I came across an offhand comment about Indian war rhinos in a book. If I had the book on hand, I'd see if there's a source for the info...

I was intrigued by your post on war rhinos: While it indeed seems improbable, this concept was at least mythologically explored by the ancient Indians. The vedic deity Agni (the equivalent of Vulcan) is sometimes depicted as riding a one horned rhino. There are depictions of him riding a one horned rhino chariot and fighting with a bow showering arrows on the demons. I have pictures that we took during our visit to the Hindu temple in the far east called Angkor wat that show agni in riding a rhino to war. The same temple also shows two more depictions of an ancient epic war of India with a war rhino deployed against rival troops. I have photos of both of these - if you are interested I can e-mail them to you.

As for the anatomical study of limbless lizards I do not think it is published. I just learned of this and I am not sure the author is planing to discuss this in print soon.

By Rajita Rajvasishth (not verified) on 10 May 2007 #permalink

In Indus Civ archaeology that object in front of the rhino is called the "standard figure". It is found in from of other non-domesiticated forms as well as mythical hybrid animals, so it may not signify domestication at all. But the rhinoceros was a sacrificed in certain rare vedic sacrifices in ancient India and its meat apparent tasted like that of the more common perissodactyl. In that ritual there is allusion of rhino like other animals being tethered to a large sacrificial post.

Could it have something to do with this mythological creature?


I'd imagine any group claiming to keep and ride those into battle would get immediate ancient warfare street cred. Unless someone called shanigans on them and they had to show up without.

I found my way over here via Zooillogix, btw. I enjoy your writing very much!

There was a very well documented "war" rhino, the renowned McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. It was commonly known as the Iron Rhino, with white versions known as Albino Rhinos. There are also "war" warthogs (the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II) and "war" aardvarks (the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark). These nicknames were inspired, generally, by the appearance of the airplanes, usually in profile.

Not tetrapods and not zoological, obviously, but much beloved by those who flew them, particularly in battle.

Well, actually there are reports of Rhinos "involved" in military actions!

There is an anecdote during WWI in German Tanganika of a Rhino (of unspeciefied kind), that disturbed by the firefight between expoloring units, charged first the brithish patrol putting them on the run and then turned on the German one defeating them too.

2-0 for Rhinos

Ref. Geoffrey Regan 1996 in Guinnes book of Military anecdote. Not the most serious book I can think of, but usually is not telling big lies.

Wow. Was just researching this for a screen play. Thought there might be some evidence for Indian war rhinos. No such luck. Thanks for this post. It was the most informative thing I found on the internet... but, despite the evidence against it, the idea remains too cool for me to drop. I like to know when I'm B.S.-ing though. Thanks for that.

Perhaps the notion that Indian rhinos were used in war arose from the custom of skinning hunted specimens and converting the heavy hide into armour for warriors? I believe I have seen a piece of rhino-hide armour in a museum. The Moghul Emperor Babur has quite a lot to say about the rhino in his Memoirs, including the fact that internally it resembles a horse (coming from Mongol ancestors as he did, he would be familiar with horse as an article of food).

The only Indian rhinoceros I ever met was in the Perth Zoo (Western Australia), long ago. It seemed quite friendly and accepted handfuls of fresh grass through the bars.

-Do I take your responses to mean that some of your readers here do NOT understand that the rhinogradentians occur entirely as an elaborate work of FICTION?

I came here because I was just about to put up a blog on surviving Sivatheres. I guess I can go ahead and do that because there seems little information that anybody else has posted on the subject yet.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

I've been planning to cover 'late surviving' sivatheres for ages... but, I've been planning to cover a lot of things for ages :)

Zdenek Veselnovsky, late director pf Prague zoo, mentions in his book about Kaziranga that ancient Indian kings used Indian rhinos as war animals and even fitted their horns with metal tridents. Unfortunately, no direct source.

Trying to find a war rhino sculpture to buy like the one shown on this site. Can I please get some info if available?

By Rene Ponce (not verified) on 17 Aug 2011 #permalink