Endocrinology & rhino baby-boom

Chester Zoo - 18th Sep, 2017

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world, severely threatened with extinction by poaching for the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn.

Chester Zoo’s conservation efforts focus on the Eastern black rhinoceros, (D.b. michaeli) the rarest and most severely threatened of the surviving black rhino subspecies.

Numbering less than 1,000 individuals this subspecies has undergone a devastating decline of over 90% during the past few decades. Since 2010, rhino poaching has intensified across Africa to its highest ever levels placing more pressure on the remaining populations.

Our previous Conservation Scholar from the University of Liverpool Katie Edwards spent her PhD investigating factors associated with reproductive success in Eastern black rhinoceros in European zoos. This was a multi-institutional study involving 90% of the European population. Katie’s research incorporated demographic analysis of population performance and utilised endocrinology to investigate how a variety of different factors may impact breeding success. This highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary research contributed to a ‘baby-boom’ of black rhinos both at Chester Zoo and other zoos in Europe, and received the BIAZA best research project award in 2013.

Following Katie’s footsteps, our Conservation Scholar Nick Harvey from the University of Manchester who is supervised by Dr Susanne Shultz, Dr Angela Harris and Dr Cathy Walton is now using methods developed at Chester Zoo and applying them to wild populations in Kenya. The main aim of Nick’s project is to take this ground-breaking research and use it to improve the breeding success of wild populations of this subspecies of black rhino. He is also interested in more general questions about the aims of conservation and whether our current efforts can achieve these aims.

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