We need to protect white rhino cows to charge at the threat of poaching

Posted on December 13, 2022

We could double the number of white rhino females in the coming decade by protecting them from poaching, which has been steadily increasing over the last decade. This is according to UP researchers and their colleagues who suggest practical solutions to protect these magnificent animals, most of which live in the Kruger National Park.

“To protect females in Kruger National Park, we suggest several tractable actions [such as] dehorning, translocating, and manipulating the behaviour of female white rhinos, coupled with harsher punishments for poaching them,” says Professor Robert McCleery of UP’s Mammal Research Institute.

If we don’t, researchers predict that white rhino numbers could plummet by 35%.


Prof McCleery and colleagues said this in a commentary about practical solutions to protect white rhinos from poaching Prof McCleery had been part of a study led by Dr Zoliswa Nhleko from the University of Florida. They had looked in detail at how the steady increase in poaching over the last 10 years affected white rhino populations in the Kruger National Park.

This is a protected area in South Africa where most of the world’s white rhinos live.

But poaching doesn’t just kill the targeted horned animal, says Mammal Research Institute’s Professor Adrian Shrader in another recent commentary on Nhleko’s study. “As Nhleko pointed out, we also need to consider the number of orphans and youngsters that have died because of their mothers' deaths,” he says.

Prof Adrian Shrader


Nhleko had calculated that overall, each female white rhino would typically give birth to six calves in its lifetime. Now, many barely manage to give birth to just one calf before they are killed, which means that for every poached female rhino, just over five future calves are lost. 

If local communities, regulators and game farm owners can reduce the poaching of female white rhinos by half, the researchers predict that white rhino numbers can double over the next 10 years.

“By taking swift and practical actions that are within the control of local managers, there is real hope that the white rhino can again become a conservation success for Africa and the planet,” Prof McCleery says.

“I, for one, hope that these findings are utilised and that we can make meaningful efforts towards a better future for this iconic African mammal,” says Shrader. “Long live the white rhino!”

- Author ScienceLink

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