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Human and Climate Change Influences on Black (Diceros bicornis) and White (Ceratotherium simum) Rhinos in Southern Africa

Rhinos are iconic species of ecological and economic importance in Africa. They represent their range states’ rich natural heritage. White rhinos, currently estimated at approximately 20, 000 animals, recovered from near extinction after heavy poaching and habitat destruction decimated numbers to 50 individuals in the 20th century. Between 1970 and 1992, black rhino numbers suffered a 96% reduction in Africa. Today, black rhino numbers are estimated between 5, 000 and 5, 500 individuals. Black and white rhinos are currently classified in IUCN’s Red List as Critically Endangered, and Near Threatened respectively. Very few studies investigate the potential effects of climate change on rhinos. Investigations on the cooperative impacts of anthropogenic activities and natural processes on the species are non-existent. We conducted a literature review to assess the status of rhino conservation. Potential climate change effects on the species’ probability of occurrence in five study parks in Africa were assessed using two IPCC-AR5 scenarios; RCPs, 4.5 and 8.5. Human influences on rhinos we evaluated based on urban expansion forecasted for the year 2030. Perceptions of communities surrounding Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland towards rhino conservation were collected using questionnaires. Most of the interviewed community members expressed pro rhino conservation attitudes and interest in the prevention of poaching. We expect the changing climate to have negative effects on the occurrence probability of rhinos. Forecasts show urban land-cover expanding into areas surrounding rhino habitats by 2030. This could have implications in the creation of corridors to facilitate the dispersal of the species.
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