Management strategies for conserving the White Rhino

By Evangeline Wilby

The white rhino, Ceratotherium simunis currently listed as near threated by the IUCN and has a decreasing population size.1 This species in important to conserve because it is a ‘flagship species’ for conservation, meaning it is used as an ambassador to draw global attention to protecting biodiversity. Additionally, it is a vegetation grazer, meaning it is critical to shaping the landscape and ecosystem it belongs to for other organisms present. 

Several factors currently threaten the species. For example, the increase in temperature caused by climate change means the White Rhino must put more energy and resources into regulating its temperature. Another factor is an increase in drought, which reduces the available vegetation for the rhino to have as a food source.2 Moreover, diseases such as tuberculosis can also be fatal to the rhino and are important to test for and treat.3Habitat loss and degradation can cause population decline in areas that are becoming urbanised or used for agricultural land, but arguably the most concerning driver of White Rhino population decline is poaching1. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in poaching, suggesting some of the anti-poaching management strategies in place may not be as effective as they once were.4 This highlightspoaching as a key consideration in environmental policy so that this species is protected. 

White rhinos have been poached in Africa for decades due to the value of their ivory horns that can be used in medicines and ornaments.1 There are various strategies in place to prevent poaching, some are less effective, ethical, and feasible than others. For example, removal of the horn altogether is an option but is extremely expensive and therefore not viable at a population wide scale, especially in low-income countries.However, the population can be modelled to find the optimal number of rhinos to dehorn in small populations to help manage decisions on the most cost-effective way to optimise rhino survival.5 DNAmapping or multi-isotopic approaches can also be used to determine where the poached ivory came from to indicate areas where poaching incidences may be high, but this is a post-reactive measure and does not prevent poaching action at the time of need.6

Fast reactive technology to prevent poaching as it happens can be seen in Kruger National Park, a protected area in South Africa that contains the majority of the country’s white rhino population, but still experiences high poaching incidences.7 In areas like this, heat sensing has been used by rangers to detect people and animals and therefore acts as a deterrent to poachers as well as being able to locate and prosecute the poachers who attempt to kill rhinos in the park.8Further technology includes a wireless sensor network where a sensor attached to the rhino will detect unusual panic and send GPS location and an image to a ranger so that immediate action can be taken. Whilst these technologies are innovative, they have their limitations that mean they are not always 100% effective. Even after the GPS location has been determined, the time it takes to reach the site may be too long to prevent the attack.9

To truly solve the anti-poaching crisis, the problem needs to be addressed at the source. Educating a generation on the importance of conserving biodiversity and the harmful effects of poaching will be crucial in ensuring poaching is not an ever-increasing problem. Raising awareness for the negative impacts of the wildlife trade and encouraging boycott will aid a decrease in demand and therefore make poaching an unviable source of income. A case study has been carried out in Nepal to assess the attitudes to poaching around protected areas and how education and awareness programmes could benefit these areas. This study used interviews and surveys to conclude that current educational programmes were ineffectively administered but could be valuable in future conservation and therefore needed to have better implementation.10 Regions of Africa where the White Rhino is mostly foundcould also benefit from such programmes and similar research here about the effect of education on conservation and how it is administered would be beneficial.

Since poaching is a source of income for many, funding of a scheme that creates safer, more ethical sources of income for poachers, providing an alternative livelihood may need to come hand-in-hand with this proposed solution. Taking actionat the community level, by supporting initiativesthat aim to take perspective from a poaching lifestyle to a protective lifestyle is critical.11 There are many organisations for anti-poaching, but they rely on donations. Greater data sharing between government sources and NGOs will therefore also allow more accurate conservation and better enforcement. Including the community in these conservation efforts will provide the most sustainable and inclusive solution to anti-poaching, to prevent the White Rhino from becoming an endangered species. 

References:

1. Emslie, R. 2020. Ceratotherium simumThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T4185A45813880. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T4185A45813880.en. Downloaded on 08 November 2021Goosen WJ, Kerr TJ, Kleynhans L, 2. Buss P, Cooper D, Warren RM, et al. The VetMAX™ M. tuberculosis complex PCR kit detects MTBC DNA in antemortem and postmortem samples from white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer). BMC veterinary research; BMC Vet Res. 2020; 16 (1): 220. 10.1186/s12917-020-02438-9.3. Ferreira SM, le Roex N, Greaver C. Species-specific drought impacts on black and white rhinoceroses. PloS one; PLoS One. 2019; 14 (1): e0209678. 10.1371/journal.pone.0209678.4. Büscher B. ‘Rhino poaching is out of control!’ Violence, race and the politics of hysteria in online conservation. Environment and planning.A. 2016; 48 (5): 979-998. 10.1177/0308518X16630988.5. Milner-Gulland E. How many to dehorn? A model for decision-making by rhino managers. Animal Conservation. 1999; 2 (2): 137-147. 10.1017/S1367943099000463.6. Coutu AN, Lee-Thorp J, Collins MJ, Lane PJ. Mapping the Elephants of the 19th Century East African Ivory Trade with a Multi-Isotope Approach. PloS one; PLoS One. 2016; 11 (10): e0163606. 10.1371/journal.pone.0163606.7. Nhleko Z, Greaver C, Ferreira SM, Simms C. Realization of poaching effects on rhinoceroses in Kruger National Park, South Africa. African journal of wildlife research. 2018; 48 (1): 1-7. 10.3957/056.048.013001.8. T. F. Tan, S. S. Teoh, J. E. Fow, K. S. Yen. Embedded human detection system based on thermal and infrared sensors for anti-poaching application. – 2016 IEEE Conference on Systems, Process and Control (ICSPC), ;2016. pp. 37-42. 10.1109/SPC.2016.7920700.9. O’Donoghue P, Rutz C, Thompson D. Real‐time anti‐poaching tags could help prevent imminent species extinctions. The Journal of applied ecology; J Appl Ecol. 2016; 53 (1): 5-10. 10.1111/1365-2664.12452.10. Shrestha S. The Role of Environmental Education for Biodiversity Conservation: A Case Study in the Protected Areas of Nepal. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing; 2015.11. Cooney, R., Roe, D., Dublin, H., Phelps, J., Wilkie, D., Keane, A., Travers, H., Skinner, D., Challender, D.W.S., Allan, J.R. and Biggs, D. (2017), From Poachers to Protectors: Engaging Local Communities in Solutions to Illegal Wildlife Trade. CONSERVATION LETTERS, 10: 367-374. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12294

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