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SOS Rhino : Research, Projects and Grants : Grants 2000 : White Rhino Reproduction : Behavior and fecal steroids...


“Observation of Behavior and Fecal Steriods in Free-ranging Southern White Rhino as Compared to the Captive Population”



Dr. Nancy Czekala Dr. Ron Swaisgood
Dr. Norman Owen-Smith  


Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species
San Diego, CA

University of the Witwatersrand

It has been well established by several investigative teams that subfertile reproduction is present in the captive southern white rhino population. Conclusions from the Southern White Rhinoceros Workshop in San Diego indicate that several subfertility categories exist for the captive population: acyclicity, mating failure, conception failure, and pregnancy failure. Both the wild-born, and the F1 generation animals are affected by some subfertilities.

Specific conditions include lack of ovulation, variable estrus cycle lengths, and early pregnancy loss. A series of management recommendations have been offered from that Workshop for each infertility condition. Considerable effort has been devoted to the diagnosis of these infertilites, however there have been no efforts to determine if any of these conditions exist in the wild populations. We have a very unique and valuable opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Norman Owen-Smith in a study of radio-tagged free-ranging southern white rhino.

Dr. Owen-Smith is studying these rhino for feeding ecology and dispersal studies. We propose to follow the same females in this study and collect fecal samples and reproductive behavioral observations. Fecal samples will be treated with the same protocol methods as our previous studies on the captive population for the measurement of progestins, and behavioral observations will follow the same ethogram as the captive study to allow for comparison.

In addition, we will monitor fecal corticoids to assess stress as an added comparison to the captive animals previously studied. By these behavioral and endocrine comparisons we will be able to determine the extent, if any, of the infertility conditions present in the wild population.

This evaluation of the wild population will allow for more appropriate appraisal of the reproductive condition of the captive population. Combined with observations of rhino movements and social structure we can also determine the possible effects of social suppression in the captive herds.

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