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Keywords:

  • rhinoceros;
  • microsatellite;
  • translocation;
  • management;
  • inbreeding;
  • Diceros bicornis

Abstract

The numbers of black rhino Diceros bicornis in Africa declined dramatically during the last century due primarily to poaching and latterly habitat transformation and fragmentation and as such, significant concerns exist with regard to the long-term population viability and the management of these fragmented populations. A considerable proportion of the remaining black rhino (ssp. minor) are found within South Africa where they largely fall under the protection and management of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Wildlife. Here we provide information on the genetic diversity, population differentiation and level of inbreeding among 77 Diceros bicornis minor individuals sampled in seven protected areas within the KZN Province of South Africa and a single population from Zimbabwe founded from the KZN population. For reference purposes with the cluster analyses, we included four individuals from ssp. bicornis and four individuals from ssp. michaeli. We found low levels of differentiation among ssp. minor populations across the KZN Province; this result is not unexpected given the history of establishments and translocations between reserves. In fact, we argue that the translocations conducted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have contributed to the acceptable levels of heterozygosity and minimal inbreeding which characterize the majority of protected areas in the province. Although the overall genetic diversity in D. b. minor is lower than that present in both Diceros bicornis bicornis and Diceros bicornis michaeli, we do not feel that it is any cause for concern at this stage as it still falls within the range reported for other large mammals across Africa. The information presented here forms the basis of an ongoing monitoring programme aimed at providing vital information which, when taken with ecological and other data, will direct the future management decisions regarding translocations between reserves in South Africa and the exchange of individuals with other countries.