1 Pre-Translocation Stage – Primary Considerations

Figure 12. Flow chart illustrating components of the pre-translocation planning phase.


Translocation and reintroduction are costly in terms of financial, human or material resources, politically sensitive and after providing protection, arguably the most important management tool for conservation of rhino. To ensure effective and efficient operations, scientifically based planning pre-translocation is the key to success.

1.1 General feasibility and assessment

Many issues need to be considered before proceeding with a translocation. These include:

1.2 Harvesting strategies to promote population growth in source populations

One of the first decisions that should be made is how many animals need to be translocated from source populations each year to maintain rapid growth rates. Desirable offtake levels will depend on the accepted and recommended harvesting strategy continentally, regionally and nationally.

1.2.1 Harvesting for growth in Africa

1.2.2 Harvesting for growth in Asia

1.3 Identification of donor area(s) which can supply founder rhino

Figure 13. (A) Satellite Image of Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary (image credit Keryn Adcock) and (B) inside the sanctuary showing the negative impact that a build up of elephant and black rhino had on woody vegetation. These changes coincided with a decline in black rhino breeding performance (Okita-Ouma et al., 2007). The elephants have since been removed, the sanctuary expanded and black rhino density reduced (Okita-Ouma et al., 2008a & b) in an effort to increase the productivity of this population. (Photo credit: Richard Kock)

1.4 Identification of recipient area(s) for rhino

1.4.1 Suitability assessments of potential recipient reserves

1.4.2 Size of Potential Recipient Reserve

1.4.3 Differences in conditions between donor and recipient reserves

1.4.4 Different ownership/management models for rhinos

The rest of this section summarises the main pros and cons of different rhino ownership and custodianship management models (as outlined by du Toit & Emslie (2006), quoted extensively in sections 1.4.4.x below). Private ownership Custodianship arrangements Large Conservancies Contractual park arrangements (for expansion of rhino range) Buffer zone management model (community forests etc)

1.4.5 Wild vs. captive or semi-captive breeding

While a very small number of captive rhinos have been successfully reintroduced to the wild, in general this is a very expensive option, and caution should be taken with regard to introducing diseases, which could seriously compromise the health of potential/actual Key and Important rated rhino populations in the wild (Osofsky et al., 2001). Disease risks need to be considered on a case by case basis before proceeding. Currently, shortage of founder black rhino is the primary factor limiting regional rhino re-introductions and range expansion. Captive breeding institutions may start to play a more important role in future by providing surplus rhinos to aid wild re-stocking programmes. Disease issues and problems associated with getting naïve captive animals back to living in the wild may mean that such animals may be translocated to a dedicated “back to the wild” breeding reserve and the wild-born offspring used to provide future founder animals.

1.5 Identifying source animals

Figure 14. Low electrified fencing used to make the temporary sancturaries into which successive groups of founder black rhino were reintroduced to North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, as part of a staggered reintroduction (Photo credit: Elsabe Van der Westhuizen, FZS).

1.6 Logistical coordination and planning

The capture and translocation of rhino is a complex undertaking that requires accurate planning and effective coordination at all stages of the process. More often than not the key to the success or failure of any translocation operation lies in the planning and coordinating phase of the project.

It must be emphasized that the planning phase begins months and in some instances years before the actual translocation takes place. It is therefore critical that the first order of business is to convene a coordination committee that will be responsible for planning all aspects of the process, especially if rhino capture is a novel undertaking and not being undertaken by a recognised and established rhino capture team.

1.6.1 Coordination Committee Long-term planning objectives Medium-term planning objectives Short-term planning objectives Regional rhino conservation bodies and international translocations

1.6.2 Planning the timing of rhino relocations

1.6.3 Planning for procurement and logistics

1.7 Personnel, capacity and experience

1.7.1 Staff requirements

1.7.2 Building local capacity for rhino translocation

1.8 Habitat considerations

1.8.1 Generic considerations and approaches

1.8.2 Black rhino

Figure 15. Illustration of how black rhino carrying capacity at the landscape level is determined by (1) the amount of browse available in the rhino area, (2) the amount of annual growth in this available browse, and (3) the species composition (suitability for rhino) of the available browse (from Adcock et al., 2007). The SADC RMG / Darwin Initiative black rhino ECC carrying capacity model is based on these factors, as are estimates by experts.

In terms of browse availability black rhino take well over 90% of their food (woody and semi-woody plants and dicotyledonous annual and perennial herbs) from plant parts in the 0–2m height range. Plants can be pushed over or broken down (by black rhino, elephant or windfall) to be fed on. Available browse can be impacted by competing browser species and fire. A technique has been developed which can rapidly estimate browse availability within rhino feeding height range of 0–2m, and categorising this browse according to three palatability classes (Adcock, 2006). The amount of preferred and non-rejected browse from 0–2m is one of the key predictive variables in the black rhino ECC estimation model.

Distance to water also should be considered when assessing black rhino carrying capacity as land areas and thus browse which are greater than approximately 14km from reliable water are effectively unavailable to black rhino10. Food resources in such areas contribute little to black rhino diet.

The figure above shows that browse growth is also an important component of black rhino ECC and this depends on many factors, including plant species composition, competition between plants, and the amount of soil water available to the plants. This is affected by rainfall patterns, evaporation, soil texture and site location in sloping terrain (run-on / run-off). Soil fertility, temperature conditions for nitrogen mineralization and plant growth, frost incidence and the current and past browsing and burning regime will also affect browse growth.

1.8.3 White rhino

N.B. where black and white rhino cohabit an area there is no evidence that one affects the ECC of the other but increased visibility of white rhino might increase the risk of poaching on the one hand and on the other hand lessen the security risk to black rhino as white rhinos are easier to find and poach.

1.8.4 Greater one-horned rhino

Table 1. Densities of greater one-horned rhino

* Rhinos move between Karnali area of Bardia and KaterniaGhat perhaps should be treated as one area
Rhinoceros unicornis No. of Rhino Area in km2 Rhino/km2 whole area (potential prime habitat only) Potential prime habitat Home range Remarks
Chitwan 372 932 0.40 (0.93) 400 km2 4.6 km2
Bardia* 31 968 0.03 (0.38) 80 km2 in Karnali 28 km2
50 km2 in Babai valley
Kaziranga 1855 480 3.86 (5.30) 350 km2
Dudhwa 18 27 0.67(0.67) 27 km2
Katerniaghat* 4 421 0.01 (0.20) 20 km2
Orang 68 78 0.87 (1.36) 50 km2 1 km2
Jaldapara 108 216.51 0.50 115 km2
Gorumara 27 79.45 0.34 8 km2
Pabitora 81 38.80 2.09 (5.01) 16 km2 (Reserve area only) 0.20 km2+ Rhinos spend much time outside reserve so actual home ranges much bigger and effective rhinos/km2 will be much lower than 5
Suklaphanta 7 305 0.02 (0.08) 90km2

1.8.5 Sumatran rhino

Table 2. Densities of Sumatran rhino

BBS NP = Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park
Sumatran Rhino No. of Rhino Area km2 Rhino/km2 whole area (potential habitat only) Potential habitat Home Range Remarks
Way Kambas NP 30 500 0.06 18–20 km2
BBS NP 60 1500 0.04
Gunung Leuser NP 50 800 0.06
Sabah 30 600 0.05 (0.07) 438 km2

1.8.6 Javan rhino

Table 3. Densities of Javan rhino

Javan Rhino No. of Rhino Area km2 Rhino/km2 whole area (potential habitat only) Potential habitat Home Range Remarks
Ujung Kulon 50 200 0.25 (0.26) 190 km2
Vietnam 7 ?

1.9 Genetic considerations

The following guidelines represent current recommended best practice:

1.10 Mortality risk considerations

The box below gives some statistics for mortality losses for black rhino and to a lesser extent white rhino during capture, release and the initial post-release settling in period.

SADC Rhino Management Group pooled data 1989–2006 for South African and Namibian black rhino translocations (RMG data analysed by Keryn Adcock 2008)

SADC Rhino Management Group pooled data 2002–2006 for South African, Namibian and Zimbabwean black rhino translocations (RMG data analysed by Keryn Adcock 2005, in prep)


South Africa


Figure 16 gives the breakdown of causes of capture/translocation mortalities in black rhino in South Africa and Namibia from 1989–2006 based on SADC RMG data. Fighting and stress-related deaths have been declining in recent years as a result of reduced translocation of small groups of rhinos to small properties and an increased focus on translocating rhinos to larger areas.

Figure 16. Mortalities during black rhino translocation in South African and Namibia over the 18 year period 1989–2006 based on an analysis of SADC RMG annual status reporting data. Of the 765 documented black rhino translocations, there were 65 capture/translocation-related mortalities (8.5%). The causes of these mortalities was mainly Stress (40.0%), Post-Release Fighting (24.6%), Capture-related 18.5%, Boma-related (10.8%) and Other (6.2%) (Figure prepared by R H Emslie based on analysis of SADC RMG data by K.Adcock in prep).

1.11 Veterinary considerations

1.11.1 Introduction

Figure 17. Skull and lower jaw from a black rhino D.b. michaeli that died on Solio Ranch, Kenya (Kock, 1999). The presumptive diagnosis was lumpy jaw an infection (rare in horses) from exposure to soil contaminated with Actinomyces bovis from earlier cattle occupation of the range (Photo credit: Richard Kock).

With so little known of infection in the rhino, any opportunity to handle a live animal or examine a carcass should involve a thorough examination and comprehensive biological sampling. Baseline studies are few with some work completed on internal parasite burdens but how significant the different species isolated are in disease pathogenesis, is poorly understood. With poaching as the main cause of death over the last 100 years in many areas it is unsurprising so little is known of disease epidemiology in rhino. However considerable work has been done (Schulz & Kluge, 1960; Round, 1964; Hitchins & Keep, 1970; Jessup et al., 1992; Windsor & Ashford, 1972; Keep & Besson, 1973; Silberman & Fulton, 1979; Clausen & Ashford, 1980; De Vos, 1980; Clausen, 1981; Soll & Williams, 1985; Kock & Kock, 1990; Kock et al., 1989; Kock et al., 1992a; Kock et al., 1992b; Mihok et al., 1992, 1994; Knapp et al., 1997; Kock et al., 1999, 2007, in prep; Fischer-Tenhagen et al., 2000; McCulloch & Achard, 1969; Williams et al., 2002; Nijhof et al., 2003). As populations recover and numbers increase disease patterns should emerge and will need to be studied.

1.11.2 Veterinary examination of rhino for health prior to translocation.

1.11.3 Post-mortem examination

1.11.4 Euthanasia

1.11.5 Statutory veterinary requirements for animal transportation

There are animal welfare regulations in some countries which determine transportation conditions appropriate to each species. IATA provides guidance and regulations for international air transport and these general conditions are also appropriate for sea, road and rail transportation (IATA Live Animals Regulations (LAR) and can be obtained through the internet: http://www.iata.org/ps/publications/lar.htm). These should be referred to in the planning process including construction of transport crates and provision for journeys. This is not mandatory in some countries, such as India, but authorities are encouraged to consult the IATA and other experts before completing design and construction.

1.12 Socio-political considerations

1.12.1 Rationale

1.12.2 Source site considerations

1.12.3 Release-site considerations

1.13 Budgeting

1.13.1 General issues to consider for successful budgeting

1.13.2 Specific issues to consider when budgeting for rhino translocations

Table 4. Translocation costs (excluding long term cost implications for ongoing rhino protection, monitoring and biological management).

Planning Pre-capture Implementation Post-release
  • Preparation of capture & release sites (road repairs etc)

  • Costs of all items purchased before operation

  • Fundraising costs

  • Costs of publicity & awareness-raising campaigns at the release site

  • Personnel costs (hiring & training of staff)

  • Equipment, materials & supplies (incl. radio transmitters, receivers, transponders, cameras, video cameras, memory cards & computer hardware)

  • Crate costs (manufacture of new or repairing old ones)

  • Costs of construction of pit traps (Asia)

  • Capture costs (drugs, staff)

  • Hiring elephants (Asia)

  • Vehicle, aircraft, helicopter (Africa) & equipment operating costs (incl. truck hiring, fuel, lubricants & maintenance costs)

  • Personnel costs (hiring & training of staff)

  • Boma construction / repair costs

  • Equipment, materials & supplies

  • Elephants (Asia)

  • Aircraft & helicopter (Africa)

  • Vehicle & equipment hiring and operating costs during capture

  • Costs of transporting rhinos to release sites

  • Transport & accommodation costs for administrators, mangers & other staff including observers & casual labour

  • Coordination & communications costs

  • Capture site clean up costs

  • Personnel costs (hiring & training of staff)

  • Boma maintenance staff and rhino care costs including logistic provision for supply (vehicles fuel)

  • Equipment (tents, GPS receivers, binoculars, boats (Asia) etc), materials & supplies

  • Aircraft (Africa)

  • Elephants for (monitoring (Asia)

  • Vehicle & equipment operating costs

  • Coordination and communication costs

  • Personnel costs for management & post-release intensive monitoring of rhino (hiring & training of staff)

1.14 Security considerations

1.14.1 General

1.14.2 Release-site considerations

1.15 Legal considerations pertaining to rhino reintroductions/ translocations

4 For more details of suggested black rhino harvesting strategies for growth see the RMG Black Rhino Biological Management Workshop Proceedings (Emslie, 2001) available on the AfRSG web page.

5 This approach will not hold in arid areas with high coefficients of variation in rainfall. In such cases maximum long term stocking densities will instead be limited by food availability during low rainfall periods, and the population density may never approach potential ECC of the area during wetter years.

6 This is calculated as the sum of the number of months each known female has been an adult (>7 years) in a population divided by the number of calves born. This produces an indicator similar to the observed inter-calving interval, but unlike the latter, this measure also includes data for adult females which are not breeding or which have not had more than one calf yet.

2However, there may be an initial settling-in period of a couple of years after establishing a new population before rapid population growth occurs.

7 Trypanosomosis denotes primarily any production, increase or invasion within an animal of parasites, and with black rhino it is more a general health issue than a disease per se. Trypanosomiasis indicates an unhealthy state due to tryps and is more consistent with disease.

8 See Definitions section for a definition

9 Stray means rhino that periodically leave the protected areas to forage in adjacent farmland. In some cases like Pabitora this is almost nightly especially during winter months. They are only a considered a problem when they do not return within a reasonable period of time of a week or more.

10 In Etosha NP, Namibia in 2002 81.2% of all black rhino rhino sightings from aerial surveys and block counts occurred from 2.5km to 10km from water holes, and 95.9% of all sightings occurred within 12.5km of waterholes. Only 1.13% of 2002 sightings occurred further than 14km from a waterhole (Emslie, du Preez & Robertson 2004)

11 Thus if a population is founded with four adult males, and six adult females (each of which has one calf) the effective founder population is not 16 but from 10 to 13 depending on the degree to which the fathers of the six calves were likely to be any of the four adult males imported.

12 In South Africa a large and highly productive AfRSG-rated Continentally Key 1 rhino population of over a 100 D.b.minor has been established in the Great Fish River Reserve; but following a revision of subspecies boundaries, this Reserve is now deemed to be out of range for that subspecies. However, due to its importance to subspecies metapopulation performance and species conservation, and on pragmatic logistical and cost grounds it is recommended this Key population be maintained as out of range populations provided there is no possible way that out of range D. b. minor animals can be able to access and breed with deemed indigenous D. b. bicornis animals. This can be done with adequate fencing.

13 Creosote poles should never be used to build rhino bomas.

14 3/7 black rhino during acclimation to bomas died apparently with heavy infestation thought to have contributed to their deaths; but whether these contributed to death is not certain and filariasis with associated ulcerative dermatitis is common but of little impact.

15 Contact AfRSG or SADC RESG for more details.

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