Space use and social bonds of re-introduced white rhino in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Open Access
Raised of $10,000 Goal
Ended on 3/31/14
Campaign Ended
  • $210
  • 3%
  • Finished
    on 3/31/14

About This Project

Translocating rhino from South Africa to safer heavens like Botswana may be the only hope in ensuring a sustainable gene bank for a diminishing rhino population. This study will provide important information on how well 6 relocated rhino adapt to a their new environment in the Okavango Delta. I will present data that will contribute to the success and planning of future rhino translocations not just in Botswana but other areas of Africa.

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What is the context of this research?

White rhino (Ceratotherium simum) are one of the most endangered African herbivore species. From a population estimate of over half a million the population declined catastrophically during the 20th century, principally due to unregulated hunting.
Regulation of trophy hunting and improved anti-poaching methods across sub-Saharan Africa did check this decline and the population of white rhino is now estimated at 20,165. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITIES). However, a renewed demand of rhino horn for the illegal Asian medicine market has once again put the rhino under significant threat, especially in South Africa where poaching incidents have increased by more than 50 fold between 2007 and 2012. An estimated 668 individuals were poached in 2012 and in 2013 this figure rose to 1004!! (SA DEA rhino poaching stats). The threats to the long-term persistence of rhinos is further compromised by its highly localized geography, with 98% of all white rhino’s currently found in only 4 countries; South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

The Okavango Delta, Botswana and surrounding areas have historically supported both black and white rhinos, and illustrates that the Delta contains habitats, resources and water necessary for rhinos to flourish. In 2001 the first of 32 white rhino were re-introduced to the Delta and have since bred and dispersed, whilst the protection offered to them has meant that poaching incidents have been minimal. The estimated population in Botswana is now at least 38 individuals.

The success of the 2001 reintroduction demonstrates the potential the Delta has in acting as a safe haven and gene depository for southern Africa's white rhino. This led to the development of another project to relocate rhinos from currently well stocked but threatened reserves in South Africa to the heart of the Delta.

The research I am carrying out is the foundation of my PhD with Bristol University's renowned Mammal Research Unit.
My self funded study will involve following the rhino in my trusty, or should I say rusty Land Rover and gathering the necessary data to contribute to the success and planning of future rhino translocations not just in Botswana but other areas of Africa.

What is the significance of this project?

The re-introduction of these rhino to the southern Okavango Delta offers a unique opportunity to see how a territorial species utilises a novel environment.

There is little in the scientific press on how long-lived herbivore species utilise novel areas. Much of the detailed work that has occurred has either involved studying areas where existing ranges were extended or historical ranges re-established, or have been limited to fenced ranches rather than releases into fully functional ‘wild’ systems.

This re-location offers the unique opportunity to study the release of rhino into a fully functional system that has limited anthropogenic barriers and a small existing rhino population.

The Okavango Delta’s mosaic vegetation structure coupled with the substantial temporal and spatial variability that naturally exists in the system makes the study of increased interest. It will allow the rhinos to access a wide variety of habitats within small geographical distances, yet will require them to adapt to changes in resource availability that occur as a result of the area’s unique double moisture system.

At current rates of poaching the population of African white rhino will go into decline within 2 years (IUCN - Species Survival Commission).

Translocation offers hope for the continued existence of the species. This study will provide important information on how well the rhinos are adapting to their new environment, thereby providing the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and other interested parties with important data on how re-located herbivores establish themselves in highly spatially and temporally varied environments such as the Okavango Delta.

I have since been given permission to monitor the existing wild rhino population in the Delta and will study the interaction between the introduced rhino and wild black and white rhino (introduced in 2001).

Such detailed and rigorous data will benefit planning for future releases both in Botswana and across the continent.

What are the goals of the project?

In this study I will investigate how the introduced rhinos use their new environment.
The multi-dimensional study will use detailed movement data from the rhinos’ satellite collars as well as GIS (graphic information systems) imagery and ground based vegetation and behavioural surveys to assess space-use by the rhinos, identify the principle determining factors and how these change with time post-release.

My primary research questions are:-

How does space-use by the relocated rhinos change with season, sex and time post release?

What habitat and resource preferences are the rhinos demonstrating and how is this affecting home range size and shape?

How does sociability change with time post release?

How do the rhino interact with the existing white and black rhino population?

The project will be disseminated in multiple ways to ensure the project is highly relevant and applied results can be utilised by ecosystem managers and conservationists in Botswana and beyond.

Initial dissemination will occur through quarterly reports to the DWNP.

At the end of the project the data will be used for PhD thesis.

A full report will be produced for the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT), DWNP and other relevant departments.


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For the purposes of transparency I receive no direct funding from 'Rhinos without Borders'

&Beyond assist with food whilst I am based at camp and a small 200L fuel allowance per month, other costs are entirely funded by myself.

The funds raised are crucial in helping me to get out and about to follow the rhino in the Okavango Delta so that I may gather observational data.

I need to employ a local bushman to help me track the rhino, I would like to pay him a decent salary for the huge contribution he is making to the success of the project.

Camping equipment for myself and my tracker e.g. canvas tents, stove, bed roll

The bulk of my budget will be spent on the research vehicle over the project period.

Regular vehicle maintenance and new parts are necessary to follow rhino through the water crossings of the Okavango Delta. In addition I need a variety of vehicle equipment to ensure I keep going or in a break down situation e.g. high lift jack, axe, shovel, tyre compressor , tyre iron, spare oil, 2 x spare tyres, spare parts etc

Vehicle modifications are necessary for bush driving and for carrying out the research effectively. This includes adding a bull bar, tow hitch, snorkel, roof rack, tread plates, sump guard, power for the fridge, water tight storage containers and not least a tracker seat on the roof for my trusty bushman.

Meet the Team

Caroline Rees
Caroline Rees

Team Bio

My days usually start at a blurry eyed 05:30 am. The camping gear is loaded into the vehicle and we are off in search of rhino. My team and I decide which rhino we are going to search for that day. The rhino can travel great distances in a short time and its strange how something so big can be so difficult to find at times! When we find the rhino I record spatial and behavioural data and we check that the rhino look healthy. The landscape of the Okavango Delta can be very challenging. Sometimes we track the rhino for hours only to discover they have crossed onto an island that is accessible to animals but not to people! Who says rhino can't swim?!?! After a day of recording rhino behaviour and movements we choose a good place set up camp for the night, we light a fire to hopefully keep wild animals at bay and settle down for a good night’s sleep. It’s an early night and another early start in search of Botswana's beautiful rhino.

Caroline Rees

I've always been captivated by animals but never thought I would get the opportunity to follow my childhood dreams of working in conservation. Sitting in the office one day I decided that I needed to live life and not just exist in it. I quit my job as an IT/telecoms engineer and went back to University to start the journey towards living my dream. Some people at the office thought I was crazy to give up my financial stability and start over but for me it was an easy decision. One of my motto’s is ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.. so that’s exactly what I did. After getting my Zoology degree under my belt I volunteered as researcher in the Virunga Mountains (Uganda) collecting field data on the endangered Golden Monkey. Living in a mud hut with no electricity and no running water needed some adjustment, but trekking in the depths of the rainforest so close to the Congo border provided a unique set of challenges. Needless to say I didn’t tell my mother of the potential dangers until after I had returned home! After completion of the Uganda project my immediate instinct was that I needed to be based in Africa. I wanted to be involved with a project where again I could contribute to the preservation of endangered species, but things didn’t go so smoothly after I got home. To make money I ended up working night shifts stacking shelves for the world’s largest online retailer. It was a definite low point but motivated me to spend any free time I had looking for new opportunities. I applied for a PhD studying 'large herbivores'. I was interviewed and was offered the position. Little did I know that I would be working with rhino! A wise person once said to me ‘if you want to make God laugh.. tell him your plans’. Who would have thought within 6 years I would have gone from sitting in an office thinking about my dreams to living them. My ultimate goal was to make a difference so I hope that’s what I am able to do for Africa’s rhinos.

Press and Media

Previous project work :-
Golden Monkeys Research Assistant, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Worked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to observe and analyse the behaviour of the endangered species the Golden Monkey, endemic to the National Park. Living at high attitude, in isolation within the rainforest provided a challenging working environment. I used tracking skills and teamwork to locate monkeys in the field; collected field data on the behaviour, health, group composition, communication and habitat use and carried out patrols to check areas susceptible to poaching activities ·

Field Surveyor, Forestry Commission Wales
Complete ancient woodland surveys throughout the South Wales area. I assessed current forest condition through age, structure, diversity, species present, ground flora, natural regeneration of broad leaf and conifer species; collated and managed data using Arc software and mapped woodland species within geographically defined areas and made recommendations of suitable management methods and identified operational constrains.
Analysis of the population density and composition of the invader the Zebra Mussel within the Cardiff Bay area.
I discovered a secondary non-native species Dikerogammarus villosus. Due to the quality of my work, my findings were announced by the University Press Office and reported on BBC Wales’ news and Cardiff University website.
Cardiff University Otter Project

Assisted with external and internal post-mortem examinations by weighing, labelling, and correctly storing tissues needed for further analysis. · Completed post-mortem data reports.

Project Backers

  • 6Backers
  • 3%Funded
  • $210Total Donations
  • $35.00Average Donation
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