The translocation of white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) to the Okavango Delta, Botswana

  • Caroline Rees

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade results in conservation managers considering alternative approaches to preserve wildlife populations. Translocation could be used as a mitigation strategy when protected areas struggle to maintain large animal populations. My research was instigated by the ‘Rhinos without Borders’ organisation which translocated six white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) from a high-risk poaching reserve in southern Africa to the relative safety of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Data were collected over a 29 month period. The aim of rhino conservation in Botswana is to establish a gene depositary for the future survival of the species.

For successful translocations it is important to examine the behaviour of animals, so the main aim of this thesis was to investigate how the rhino adapted to translocation. Most translocations involving large herbivores involve small numbers of individuals. Generally short-term translocation success rates are poor and are affected by mortality during the translocation process or after release, large dispersal distances - sometimes leaving the release area entirely, or rejection of resources at the release site.

Acclimating wild rhino established stable hierarchy, but the results highlighted the requirement for a better understanding of captive rhino social groups, and social pressure within a contained environment. Rhino formed paired companionships during the acclimation period in the boma, and cohorts were sustained after initial release into the Okavango Delta. Rhino had extensive ranges compared to reserves with high populations, and despite acclimation they dispersed over large distances. Forcibly moving rhino from certain areas did not stop them from returning, and was therefore an ineffective method of control. Rhino employed a varied mixed movement strategy at the landscape scale. Grassland was a key habitat for rhino and was related to availability. Rhino made selections based on high intake rate to maximise energy. Annual diet mainly comprised tufted caespitose and stoloniferous high and average quality swards.

My results illustrate the importance of understanding how the translocation process affects wild animals, and how they adapt to new environments.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorInnes C Cuthill (Supervisor) & Gareth Jones (Supervisor)

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