Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects


Spatially Explicit Habitat Modeling for Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)



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Increasing poaching and decreasing available land have pushed black rhino (Diceros bicornis) to the edge of extinction. Private lands present the best opportunity for expanding the wild populations due to ability to monitor the individuals. In South Africa, private landowners receive direct benefits from wildlife through tourist’s dollars, the selling of wildlife, and legal hunting. I examined a small population of black rhino to see if human presence will modify their habitat selection. I analyzed factors that are associated with home range size and location for black rhino in South Africa, including water preference and interspecific competition from humans for land, and compared the actual use of habitat to the original economic model used for the reintroduction. My data suggests that the original management plan’s estimated carrying capacity and off take rate are overestimated due to rhino having preferred habitat. The original management plan was based on vegetation, topography, water availability, geology, and annual rainfall/temperature found on Balule Nature Reserve. The estimate is also based on black rhino estimated carrying capacity in Hluhluwe Game Reserve in South Africa ((Hitchins 1969; Hitchins and Anderson 1983; Ferguson, 2011). The original management plan did not include interspecific and intraspecific competition. Black rhino are known to prefer certain vegetation and topography. It did not take into account vegetation preference of black rhino for the plant genus Euphorbia. Black rhino will base their activity pattern on water availability and interspecific competition from white rhino. Black rhino are observed to avoid human presence on reserves. Management should condense human activity on small, private nature reserves to allow rhino populations to maximize their habitat. Spatially explicit management plans for habitat use should be utilized when reintroducing populations of black rhino for economic benefit.


Biodiversity | Biology

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