Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

University of Brighton biosciences blog

Brighton scientists fighting to save the Rhino

A team of University of Brighton ecologists is leading new research to fight the decline in rhinos in South Africa.

Rhino horn is worth more than gold on the black market and with an average of three rhinos being killed by poachers every day, experts fear the species will be wiped out in 10 to 20 years.Cheeky Cow later died at the hands of poachers and her calf Charlie subsequently died.

Dr Dawn Scott, Assistant Head of the university’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “Widespread poaching has decimated rhino populations around the world including South Africa, home to three-quarters of the world’s rhino population.

“In the last six years 2,650 rhino have been poached in South Africa, with 1,116 deaths in 2014 alone. The situation is urgent.”

Dr Scott, who specialises in mammal ecology and conservation, is leading a new study on the impact of rhinos on their environment and how it could be affected by their disappearance.

Dr Scott and University of Brighton colleagues Dr Rachel White, Dr Angelo Pernetta and Dr Anja Rott, will be working with South African ecologists.

Dr Scott said one strategy used to protect rhinos from poachers has been to remove the rhino’s highly valuable horn. But it is unknown what impact de-horning has on rhinos’ behaviour, their ability to defend themselves and young from predators, and their interactions with other species.

Other land management strategies such as nightly patrols have been employed – but little is known about how effective these strategies have been.

Dr Scott said the new study, sponsored by the Earthwatch Institute and the Lounsbury Foundation, will be the first in South Africa to look at the ecosystem services of rhinos and the impact of management on rhino behaviour – information that will help protect them.

Dr Scott said the results will highlight how rhinos support biodiversity within their ecosystem and will be shared with rhino owners and park managers to create large-scale policies that help reduce the risk of poaching.

She said: “Rhinos play an important role as ‘ecosystem engineers’ and understanding this impact on the environment will help conserve and manage rhinos in South Africa.”

For more information about the research, go to:

Laura Ruby • September 10, 2015

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