Project Summary

This project was launched in 2015, in response to concerns about large herbivores straying from the safety of the Rhodes Matopos National Park into adjacent unprotected land.  Such movements not only increase risk of poaching or road accidents, but can also lead to conflict with land users and livestock outside the reserve.

Our work so far has focused on seasonal habitat selection by key large grazers, including a detailed look at the characteristics of the environment where feeding and resting patches are located.  Four Master of Research theses have been completed to-date as part of this project and more are currently underway.

Project Details

Initiated in 2015, this research attempted to understand the seasonal movement patterns of white rhino in Rhodes Matopos National Park in order to better protect them. Research showed that rhino movements were linked to forage quality and the availability of palatable annual grasses.

Subsequent research went beyond rhinos to look at the patch selection of various grazing species including blue wildebeest, plains zebra, sable antelope, waterbuck, and common reedbuck. Research showed that grazers preferred patches with shorter grass and higher grass species diversity. It also showed that the animals preferred soil with higher potassium, calcium and magnesium levels. Grazing was highest in mopane dominant and grass vegetation types. Browsing was highest in open mixed woodland.

More recently, a year-long study of white rhino used direct observations, camera traps and belt transects to understand what influenced the selection of habitats for foraging and resting. Grass height and cover were important factors for grazing site selection in the wet and cool dry season. In the hot dry season the rhinos preferred grasses that retained higher greenness into the season.

The white rhino preferred to rest in shaded woodland areas far from roads. They were more active, engaging in activities such as feeding and travel, when it was cooler (early morning, late afternoon and on overcast days). White rhino were also more active at night during the full moon period when night-time luminescence is better than on other nights.

This project is a collaboration between Dambari Wildlife Trust and: