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Ferreira, S.; Le Roux, N.; Greaver, C., 2019. Species-specific drought impacts on black and white rhinoceroses. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0209678: 1-11 -

Location: Africa - Southern Africa - South Africa
Subject: Ecology
Species: African Rhino Species

Original text on this topic:
Unrelenting poaching to feed the illegal trafficking of rhinoceros (rhino) horn remains the principle threat to the persistence of south-central black and southern white rhino that live in the Kruger National Park (Kruger), South Africa. Other global environmental change drivers, such as unpredictable climatic conditions, impose additional uncertainties on the management and persistence of these species. The drought experienced in Kruger over the 2015/2016 rainy season may have affected rhino population growth and thus added an additional population pressure to the poaching pressure already occurring. Under drought conditions, reduced grass biomass predicts increased natural deaths and a subsequent decrease in birth rate for the grazing white rhino. Such variance in natural death and birth rates for the browsing black rhino are not expected under these conditions. We evaluated these predictions using rhino population survey data from 2013 to 2017. Comparisons of natural deaths and birth rates between pre- (2013/2014 and 2014/15), during- (2015/2016) and post-drought (2016/2017) periods in Kruger showed increased natural mortality and decreased births for white rhino, but no significant changes for black rhino, supporting our predictions. As a result, despite reduced poaching rates, the total mortality rate of white rhino remains significantly higher than the birth rate. Decreased poaching, decreased natural deaths and no apparent drought effects in black rhino resulted in a lower total mortality rate than the estimated birth rate in 2017. Active biological management and traditional anti-poaching initiatives together therefore represent the most likely way to buffer the impacts of decreased population growth through climate change and wildlife crime on the persistence of rhinos.

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