Project Summary

Understanding how animals move through the habitats available in a natural area and use the various resources available to them is vital information for successful management of populations.  We initiated research into large mammal herbivores (plant eaters, such as white rhino and wildebeest) in Matobo National Park in 2015.  Research conducted in the first year showed that white rhino movements were linked to forage quality and the availability of palatable annual grasses in the wet season.

Project Details

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 and browsers and mixed-feeders such as impala and greater kudu. These studies showed that grazers preferred patches with short grass (generally less than 60 cm in height) and high grass species diversity, enabling selection of preferred grasses. It also showed that the animals preferred soil with higher potassium, calcium and magnesium levels, which probably translated into improved nutrient content of their food. Grazing patches were most prevalent in mopane dominant and grassland habitats. 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. Again, a preference for shorter grass (40 to 60 cm height) and denser ground cover were important factors for grazing site selection in the wet and cool dry season. In the hot dry season the rhino preferred grasses that retained higher greenness into the season and utilised habitats accordingly.

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.

Results from these research projects have been provided to Matobo National Park management, who can then use evidence-based approaches to habitat management, fire regimes and road developments.

There are still questions that we would like to help Matobo National Park to answer, such as why sable antelope leave the park for neighbouring farmland in the wet season, and how to manage neighbouring community support (such as thatching grass harvesting) to the benefit of wildlife in the park.

This page was compiled from research done by University of Southampton students – Andrea Franceschin, Ahmed Faisal, Alexandra Phillips and Tessa Chesonis as well as National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) student and DWT Field officer, Tafadzwa Tichagwa.

The work was completed with the support of Marwell Wildlife and Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust.