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Combining molecular and incomplete observational data to inform management of southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)

  • Purisotayo, Tarid1, 2
  • Jonsson, Nicholas N.1
  • Mable, Barbara K.1
  • Verreynne, Frederick J.3
  • 1 University of Glasgow, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK , Glasgow (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Mahasarakham University, Office of Academic Affairs, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Maha Sarakham, 44000, Thailand , Maha Sarakham (Thailand)
  • 3 Vet and Agric Consultants, Gaborone, Botswana , Gaborone (Botswana)
Published Article
Conservation Genetics
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Mar 15, 2019
DOI: 10.1007/s10592-019-01166-4
Springer Nature


Conservation efforts have preserved the southern white rhinoceros (SWR) in protected areas and have resulted in substantial overall growth in population size, but in small, fragmented populations in which inbreeding is an important risk. However, field observation of breeding often lacks sufficient accuracy to inform translocation strategies that are intended to increase genetic variation. The purpose of this study was to integrate microsatellite genotypes with an incomplete, field-observed pedigree to make inferences about mean kinship and basic demographic data that could be used to inform translocation programmes for SWR in a confined population in Botswana. Using this approach, we identified parents for 29 out of 45 offspring born in the reserve between 1993 and 2013 and detected eight non-breeding bulls with high mean kinship as candidates for translocation. The method also allowed inferences about demographic parameters that could influence the effectiveness of intervention strategies, such as age and timing of reproduction, and natal sex ratios. Importantly, the reproductive dominance of the bulls was not as skewed as expected after the original dominant bull was removed from the population, suggesting that closed populations can maintain multiple, simultaneously breeding males. The genetic data also confirmed that the accuracy of field-based parentage assignment was increased after implementation of an ear-notching programme. This study demonstrates the value of combining genetic information with ongoing surveillance to inform management of threatened populations, and of using mean kinship to inform metapopulation management by identifying candidates for translocation.

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