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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : SOS Rhino goes to Africa
 
SOS Rhino goes to Africa
  In August 2004, Dr. Petra Kretzschmar, Science Director and Programme Coordinator of SOS Rhino went to South Africa to conduct a project on a private game farm in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. This project involves the update of the existing data file of black and white rhinos and the collection of skin samples for genetic analysis. This project is part of a long-term study which started in 1997 as part of Dr. Petra’s PhD. The following journal describes Dr. Petra’s experience and gives background information on the project:

I arrived in South Africa early morning on the 18th of August. I was picked up from the Johannesburg International Airport by an old friend of mine who runs a lovely bed and breakfast accommodation in the northern part of Johannesburg. He informed me that the farm has already started catching some rhinos and that one of the owners of the game farm, was going to pick me up in a few hours time. So there was no time for me to rest. I still had to buy some winter clothes such as gloves, a hat, long underwear and thick pullovers. These are important requirements to survive the long hours on the back of a pick up truck in the South African winter, especially when you come directly from the tropics of Malaysia. After I bought all the necessities, including German bread, we proceeded to the game farm.

The game farm is 300 sq km in size and habituates a large variety of animals: white and black rhinos, sable and roan, elephants, lions and others.


Picture 1 :: A group of giraffe on a private game farm in South Africa.


Picture 2 :: A group of impala resting under an Acacia tree.

Every year the management of the farm is catching all one to two year old black and white rhinos. The rhinos get a notch in their ear and a microchip is being placed in their hump. This helps to monitor the population, to establish the number of animals on the farm and to testify the ownership of a rhino.


Picture 3 :: Ear notches on the right ear of a white rhino.


Picture 4 :: Juvenile white rhino notched as number 150.

It South Africa all animals that are on one property belong to the owner of this property. In the case where an animal breaks through the fences and stays on the neighbouring farm it will then belong to the owner of this new property. The previous owner has to prove that this animal belongs to him. The ability to testify ownership becomes very important when a rhino breaks through a fence, as the value of a rhino is approximately US$20,000. A microchip implant helps to testify to whom the rhino belongs.

This rhino project started in 1998 and is continued every year. I use this opportunity to collect important information about the social system and anatomy of the rhinos. I measure the body and horn size of the rhinos and collect skin and blood samples.


Picture 5 :: Dr. Petra measuring the circumference of the head of a juvenile white rhino.

The skin samples are being analysed in a laboratory in Pretoria, South Africa. They conduct genetic analysis of fatherhood. With this bit of information I can identify the main breeder in the population and determine the degree of inbreeding in this population. This is very important for the long-term management of a rhino population. Inbreeding leads to a decrease in the genetic variety of offspring and as a consequence lethal recessives will be expressed. This has been shown to result in high juvenile mortality, e.g. abortions, disease and poor reproduction across a wide range of captive and wild populations.

The farm is also catching males of three years of age or above. These subadult males are being translocated to another farm. Subadults are likely to compete and fight with the adults to obtain a territory when they are becoming older. The translocation helps to prevent fighting between these subadults and territorial males.


Picture 6 :: Sub-adult male is being prepared for transport to another farm.


Picture 7 :: Sub-adult male walking into a crate.





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