Habitat utilisation by the white rhinoceros and status of the species in Namibia
This study investigated habitat utilisation of the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) in a semi-arid environment and established the history and current status of the species, following its introduction to Namibia. Most early introductions of white rhinos to private land were not successful due to poaching, over-hunting and poor management. The value of the animals has increased significantly since 1989, which has encouraged farmers to protect and manage rhinos sustainably, and numbers are now increasing. Effective management involves protection from poaching, regular monitoring and providing supplementary feed when grazing is poor. White rhino numbers in National Parks have increased due to co-ordinated management and protection operations. Spatial utilisation of a group of white rhino in a potentially marginal, semi-arid environment was investigated by comparing rhino habitat selection with that available. Following an intensive assessment of the habitat in the area, traditional African tracking techniques were applied to observe and record rhino habitat selection, grazing and activity patterns at approximately 2,000 GPS locations. Rhino activity locations were overlaid onto spatial maps of environmental parameters and analysed'using GIS techniques. In this study, the rhinos were found to primarily select the dominant, soft grass species and areas with high grass density and biomass. They had apparently successfully adapted to utilise this semi-arid environment. Habitat utilisation was generally broad, only highly rocky and steep areas being avoided. Certain parts of Namibia's semi-arid environment were considered to be marginal or inherently unsuitable habitat for white rhino due to overgrazing and low rainfall, but with management support, rhinos can persist and thrive largely independent of the available habitat. With respect to the favourable status of the species world-wide, continued introductions were recommended, providing owners were aware of management requirements. An information booklet was produced to assist understanding of the implications, requirements and problems when considering introductions.