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Southern Africa Could Become Too Hot to Handle for Rhinos

Diane Du Plessis

Author: Diane Du Plessis - 20 February 2024

Last Update: 22 January 2024

Part of the Visit Southern Africa & African Safari Collection

Most of the world’s remaining black and white rhino populations inhabit Southern Africa, a region where climate is rapidly changing due to global warming. Now a research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has produced an analysis of climate change’s possible catastrophic impact on these unique animals.

Rhinos Don’t Sweat from the Heat

Two Rhinos roaming the fields in Namibia.
Two Rhinos roaming the fields in Namibia

Unlike most mammals, rhinos don’t possess the capacity to regulate their body temperature by sweating. Instead, they cool off by bathing and finding shade. Most conservation strategies for rhinos in Africa involve the management and prevention of poaching, but the analysis warns that a whole new strategy will need to be put in place, one focusing on ensuring the availability of water sources and enough shaded areas.

Modeling the Future of Southern Africa’s Rhino Populations

Lead author of the report, Hlelowenkhosi S. Mamba had this to say about the effect of climate change on wildlife in Southern Africa, “Generally speaking, most, if not all, species will in one way or another, be negatively affected by the changing climate. It is therefore important for conservationists to conduct macroecological assessments over large areas to catch trends and model futures for some of the world’s most vulnerable species.”

 The Five Large National Parks Found in Africa

White rhinos crossing a road in Pilansberg National Park, South Africa.
White Rhinos crossing a road in Pilansberg National Park, South Africa.

To gain insight into how climate change will affect rhino populations, Mamba and senior author Timothy Randhir, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst, concentrated their study on the five large national parks in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, and eSwatini. Nearly every park will become drier as global emissions increase, except Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park, which will experience higher rainfall.

Bad News for Rhinos in Southern Africa

Southern White Rhino grazing on the open savannah of South Africa.
Southern White Rhino grazing on the open savannah of South Africa.

According to the authors of the study, “The temperature conditions in all study parks will become increasingly unsuitable for both species, but it is predicted that white rhinos will be affected earlier than black rhinos. All the parks are showing drastic changes in the occurrence probability of rhinos.” These conditions can impact the number of rhinos spotted on safari tours in Southern Africa

Climate Predictions Crucial for Rhino Conservation

Randhir had this to say, “This paper highlights the importance of using climate predictions for both park and rhino management. We propose that park managers think now about increasing water supplies, tree cover, watching for stress, and planning to allow rhino migration as the world warms.”

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