Concept: Black Rhinoceros
White rhinoceros (rhinos) is a keystone conservation species and also provides revenue for protection agencies. Restoring or mimicking the outcomes of impeded ecological processes allows reconciliation of biodiversity and financial objectives. We evaluate the consequences of white rhino management removal, and in recent times, poaching, on population persistence, regional conservation outcomes and opportunities for revenue generation. In Kruger National Park, white rhinos increased from 1998 to 2008. Since then the population may vary non-directionally. In 2010, we estimated 10,621 (95% CI: 8,767-12,682) white rhinos using three different population estimation methods. The desired management effect of a varying population was detectable after 2008. Age and sex structures in sink areas (focal rhino capture areas) were different from elsewhere. This comes from relatively more sub-adults being removed by managers than what the standing age distribution defined. Poachers in turn focused on more adults in 2011. Although the effect of poaching was not detectable at the population level given the confidence intervals of estimates, managers accommodated expected poaching annually and adapted management removals. The present poaching trend predicts that 432 white rhinos may be poached in Kruger during 2012. The white rhino management model mimicking outcomes of impeded ecological processes predicts 397 rhino management removals are required. At present poachers may be doing “management removals,” but conservationists have no opportunity left to contribute to regional rhino conservation strategies or generate revenue through white rhino sales. In addition, continued trends in poaching predict detectable white rhino declines in Kruger National Park by 2016. Our results suggest that conservationists need innovative approaches that reduce financial incentives to curb the threats that poaching poses to several conservation values of natural resources such as white rhinos.
The black rhinoceros is again on the verge of extinction due to unsustainable poaching in its native range. Despite a wide historic distribution, the black rhinoceros was traditionally thought of as depauperate in genetic variation, and with very little known about its evolutionary history. This knowledge gap has hampered conservation efforts because hunting has dramatically reduced the species' once continuous distribution, leaving five surviving gene pools of unknown genetic affinity. Here we examined the range-wide genetic structure of historic and modern populations using the largest and most geographically representative sample of black rhinoceroses ever assembled. Using both mitochondrial and nuclear datasets, we described a staggering loss of 69% of the species' mitochondrial genetic variation, including the most ancestral lineages that are now absent from modern populations. Genetically unique populations in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi and Angola no longer exist. We found that the historic range of the West African subspecies (D. b. longipes), declared extinct in 2011, extends into southern Kenya, where a handful of individuals survive in the Masai Mara. We also identify conservation units that will help maintain evolutionary potential. Our results suggest a complete re-evaluation of current conservation management paradigms for the black rhinoceros.
Individual elements of many extinct and extant North American rhinocerotids display osteopathologies, particularly exostoses, abnormal textures, and joint margin porosity, that are commonly associated with localized bone trauma. When we evaluated six extinct rhinocerotid species spanning 50 million years (Ma), we found the incidence of osteopathology increases from 28% of all elements of Eocene Hyrachyus eximius to 65-80% of all elements in more derived species. The only extant species in this study, Diceros bicornis, displayed less osteopathologies (50%) than the more derived extinct taxa. To get a finer-grained picture, we scored each fossil for seven pathological indicators on a scale of 1-4. We estimated the average mass of each taxon using M1-3 length and compared mass to average pathological score for each category. We found that with increasing mass, osteopathology also significantly increases. We then ran a phylogenetically-controlled regression analysis using a time-calibrated phylogeny of our study taxa. Mass estimates were found to significantly covary with abnormal foramen shape and abnormal bone textures. This pattern in osteopathological expression may reflect a part of the complex system of adaptations in the Rhinocerotidae over millions of years, where increased mass, cursoriality, and/or increased life span are selected for, to the detriment of long-term bone health. This work has important implications for the future health of hoofed animals and humans alike.
White rhinoceros ejaculates (n=9) collected by electroejaculation from four males were shipped (10°C, 12h) to develop procedures for the production of chilled and frozen-thawed sex-sorted spermatozoa of adequate quality for artificial insemination (AI). Of all electroejaculate fractions, 39.7% (31/78) exhibited high quality post-collection (≥70% total motility and membrane integrity) and of those, 54.8% (17/31) presented reduced in vitro quality after transport and were retrospectively determined to exhibit urine-contamination (≥21.0μg creatinine/ml). Of fractions analyzed for creatinine concentration, 69% (44/64) were classified as urine-contaminated. For high quality non-contaminated fractions, in vitro parameters (motility, velocity, membrane, acrosome and DNA integrity) of chilled non-sorted and sorted spermatozoa were well-maintained at 5°C up to 54h post-collection, whereby >70% of post-transport (non-sorted) or post-sort (sorted) values were retained. By 54h post-collection, some motility parameters were higher (P<0.05) for non-sorted spermatozoa (total motility, rapid velocity, average path velocity) whereas all remaining motion parameters as well as membrane, acrosome and DNA integrity were similar between sperm types. In comparison with a straw method, directional freezing resulted in enhanced (P<0.05) motility and velocity of non-sorted and sorted spermatozoa, with comparable overall post-thaw quality between sperm types. High purity enrichment of X-bearing (89±6%) or Y-bearing (86±3%) spermatozoa was achieved using moderate sorting rates (2540±498X-spermatozoa/s; 1800±557Y-spermatozoa/s). Collective in vitro characteristics of sorted-chilled or sorted-frozen-thawed spermatozoa derived from high quality electroejaculates indicate acceptable fertility potential for use in AI.
Describing vocal repertoires represents an essential step towards gaining an overview about the complexity of acoustic communication in a given species. The analysis of infant vocalisations is essential for understanding the development and usage of species-specific vocalisations, but is often underrepresented, especially in species with long inter-birth intervals such as the white rhinoceros. Thus, this study aimed for the first time to characterise the infant and juvenile vocal repertoire of the Southern white rhinoceros and to relate these findings to the adult vocal repertoire. The behaviour of seven mother-reared white rhinoceros calves (two males, five females) and one hand-reared calf (male), ranging from one month to four years, was simultaneously audio and video-taped at three zoos. Normally reared infants and juveniles uttered four discriminable call types (Whine, Snort, Threat, and Pant) that were produced in different behavioural contexts. All call types were also uttered by the hand-reared calf. Call rates of Whines, but not of the other call types, decreased with age. These findings provide the first evidence that infant and juvenile rhinoceros utter specific call types in distinct contexts, even if they grow up with limited social interaction with conspecifics. By comparing our findings with the current literature on vocalisations of adult white rhinoceros and other solitary rhinoceros species, we discuss to which extent differences in the social lifestyle across species affect acoustic communication in mammals.
Stockmanship is a term used to describe the management of animals with a good stockperson someone who does this in a in a safe, effective, and low-stress manner for both the stock-keeper and animals involved. Although impacts of unfamiliar zoo visitors on animal behaviour have been extensively studied, the impact of stockmanship i.e familiar zoo keepers is a new area of research; which could reveal significant ramifications for zoo animal behaviour and welfare. It is likely that different relationships are formed dependant on the unique keeper-animal dyad (human-animal interaction, HAI). The aims of this study were to (1) investigate if unique keeper-animal dyads were formed in zoos, (2) determine whether keepers differed in their interactions towards animals regarding their attitude, animal knowledge and experience and (3) explore what factors affect keeper-animal dyads and ultimately influence animal behaviour and welfare. Eight black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), eleven Chapman’s zebra (Equus burchellii), and twelve Sulawesi crested black macaques (Macaca nigra) were studied in 6 zoos across the UK and USA. Subtle cues and commands directed by keepers towards animals were identified. The animals latency to respond and the respective behavioural response (cue-response) was recorded per keeper-animal dyad (n = 93). A questionnaire was constructed following a five-point Likert Scale design to record keeper demographic information and assess the job satisfaction of keepers, their attitude towards the animals and their perceived relationship with them. There was a significant difference in the animals' latency to appropriately respond after cues and commands from different keepers, indicating unique keeper-animal dyads were formed. Stockmanship style was also different between keepers; two main components contributed equally towards this: “attitude towards the animals” and “knowledge and experience of the animals”. In this novel study, data demonstrated unique dyads were formed between keepers and zoo animals, which influenced animal behaviour.
Reproductive tract tumours, specifically leiomyoma, are commonly found in female rhinoceroses. Similar to humans, tumour growth in rhinoceroses is thought to be sex hormone dependent. Tumours can form and expand from the onset of ovarian activity at puberty until the cessation of sex-steroid influences at senescence. Extensive tumour growth results in infertility. The aim of this study was to down regulate reproductive function of tumour-diseased and infertile females to stop further tumour growth using a Gonadotropin releasing factor (GnRF) vaccine. Four infertile southern white (Ceratotherium simum simum) and three Greater one-horned rhinoceroses (rhinoceros unicornis) with active ovaries and 2.7 ± 0.9 and 14.0 ± 1.5 reproductive tract tumours respectively were vaccinated against GnRF (Improvac®, Zoetis, Germany) at 0, 4 and 16 weeks and re-boostered every 6-8 months thereafter. After GnRF vaccination ovarian and luteal activity was suppressed in all treated females. Three months after vaccination the size of the ovaries, the number of follicles and the size of the largest follicle were significantly reduced (P<0.03). Reproductive tract tumours decreased significantly in diameter (Greater-one horned rhino: P<0.0001; white rhino: P<0.01), presumably as a result of reduced sex-steroid influence. The calculated tumour volumes were reduced by 50.8 ± 10.9% in Greater one-horned and 48.6 ± 12.9% in white rhinoceroses. In conclusion, GnRF vaccine effectively down regulated reproductive function and decreased the size of reproductive tract tumours in female rhinoceros. Our work is the first to use down regulation of reproductive function as a symptomatic treatment against benign reproductive tumour disease in a wildlife species. Nonetheless, full reversibility and rhinoceros fertility following GnRF vaccination warrants further evaluation.
Black and white rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum) are iconic African species that are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered and Near Threatened (http://www.iucnredlist.org/), respectively . At the end of the 19th century, Southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) numbers had declined to fewer than 50 animals in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi region of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province of South Africa, mainly due to uncontrolled hunting [2,3]. Efforts by the Natal Parks Board facilitated an increase in population to over 20,000 in 2015 through aggressive conservation management . Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) populations declined from several hundred thousand in the early 19th century to ∼65,000 in 1970 and to ∼2,400 by 1995  with subsequent genetic reduction, also due to hunting, land clearances and later poaching . In South Africa, rhinoceros poaching incidents have increased from 13 in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014 . This has occurred despite strict trade bans on rhinoceros products and strict enforcement in recent years.
The onslaught on the World’s rhinoceroses continues despite numerous initiatives aimed at curbing it. When losses due to poaching exceed birth rates, declining rhino populations result. We used previously published estimates and growth rates for black rhinos (2008) and white rhinos (2010) together with known poaching trends at the time to predict population sizes and poaching rates in Kruger National Park, South Africa for 2013. Kruger is a stronghold for the south-eastern black rhino and southern white rhino. Counting rhinos on 878 blocks 3x3 km in size using helicopters, estimating availability bias and collating observer and detectability biases allowed estimates using the Jolly’s estimator. The exponential escalation in number of rhinos poached per day appears to have slowed. The black rhino estimate of 414 individuals (95% confidence interval: 343-487) was lower than the predicted 835 individuals (95% CI: 754-956). The white rhino estimate of 8,968 individuals (95% CI: 8,394-9,564) overlapped with the predicted 9,417 individuals (95% CI: 7,698-11,183). Density- and rainfall-dependent responses in birth- and death rates of white rhinos provide opportunities to offset anticipated poaching effects through removals of rhinos from high density areas to increase birth and survival rates. Biological management of rhinos, however, need complimentary management of the poaching threat as present poaching trends predict detectable declines in white rhino abundances by 2018. Strategic responses such as anti-poaching that protect supply from illegal harvesting, reducing demand, and increasing supply commonly require crime network disruption as a first step complimented by providing options for alternative economies in areas abutting protected areas.
Chronic foot disease poses a threat to the general health, represents a tremendous clinical challenge, and often is a reason for euthanasia in captive megaherbivores, among them the elephant and rhinoceros. Nevertheless, apart from the elephant, foot pathology is handled as being confined only to soft tissues whereas bone pathology is often overlooked. As a case in point, the authors selected the second largest mammal on land, the rhinoceros. We performed a computed tomographic (CT) study using the highest resolution available in veterinary world, followed by digital radiography of eight distal limbs from two white and one Indian rhinoceroses. Our study demonstrated that bone pathology in rhinoceroses' foot is present and in large numbers, yet none of these were diagnosed ante mortem. Even when the animals were euthanized due to foot problems, the decision was based on soft tissue pathology rather than orthopedic reasons. Even more worrying is the fact that the largest number of osteopathologies was present in one of the white rhinoceroses that showed no discernable related clinical signs. This study describes for the first time the existence of bone pathology in white rhinoceros foot, in addition to the two previously described rhinoceros species - Indian and black rhinoceroses. Furthermore, the chronic foot disease reported for the Indian rhinoceros in our study was not restricted to soft tissue structures as was presumed ante mortem but included severe bone pathology. New evidence suggesting that osteopathology in rhinoceroses' distal limb is more widespread than it was thought before could force us to rethink of radiographic diagnosis in captive megaherbivores as routine examination incorporated into their health management. The anticipated improvements in radiologic examinations in megaherbivores will increase the effectiveness of their management and husbandry and open the way for improved animal welfare and better wildlife conservation.