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Duthe, V.; Odendaal, K.; Westhuizen, R. van der; Defossez, E., 2023. Reductions in home-range size and social interactions among dehorned black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis). PNAS 120 (25) e2301727120, 1-7 -

Location: Africa
Subject: Ecology
Species: Black Rhino

Original text on this topic:
The global decline of megaherbivores, such as the critically endangered African black rhinoceros, is fueled by the illegal trade in tusks and horns. In an effort to curb the recent onslaught, conservationists are implementing the large-scale removal and trimming of rhinoceros horns. Although this preventative approach has coincided with a general reduction in poaching-induced mortality, we show that it also alters black rhino space use and interactions. Across 10 South African reserves, dehorned black rhinos reduced their home ranges and social encounters. The profound impacts of this antipoaching measure on black rhino behavioral ecology might have demographic consequences, yet to be determined, highlighting the importance of considering behavioral responses when weighing the net benefit of conservation interventions.
Poaching for horns and tusks is driving declines of megaherbivores worldwide, including the critically endangered African black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). By proactively dehorning entire rhinoceros populations, conservationists aim to deter poaching and prevent species loss. However, such conservation interventions may have hidden and underestimated effects on animals’ behavior and ecology. Here, we combine >15 y of black rhino–monitoring data across 10 South African game reserves, comprising >24,000 sightings of 368 individuals, to determine the consequences of dehorning for black rhino space use and social interactions. While preventative dehorning at these reserves coincided with a nationwide decrease in black rhino mortality from poaching and did not infer increased natural mortality, dehorned black rhinos decreased their home range area by, on average, 11.7 km2 (45.5%) and were 37% less likely to engage in social encounters. We conclude that dehorning black rhinos as an antipoaching measure alters their behavioral ecology, although the potential population-level effects of these changes remain to be determined.

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