Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) habitat selection and movement analysis.
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Many aspects of habitat selection have been largely ignored in conservation planning of large mammals, including variation between day and night movement patterns, inter-individual niche variation of conspecifics and translocated individual‟s responses to new environments in relation to the influence of ecogeographical variables. Being a solitary moving animal with a known tendency to move through the night, the black rhino Diceros bicornis is a perfect species to test theories about individual spatial and temporal variation in habitat utilisation. I tested the appropriateness of using carrying capacity (CC) estimates as a tool for population conservation planning, and as an indicator of habitat utilisation for black rhino. I found individual selection was not related to the value of the habitat according to modelled CC. I therefore do not recommend the use of a priori calculations of resource quality and abundance of habitats (CC estimates), which do not take into account the factors that influence an animal‟s selection of a habitat, as indicators of species habitat use. Secondly I tested whether current methods of analyzing mainly diurnal location data of animals result in accurate ecological or conservation conclusions. I found a circadian variation in habitat use for different behaviours, and that excluding nocturnal data from home and browsing range analyses would provide inaccurate results for black rhino habitat use. I then tested for inter-individual niche variation amongst two populations of black rhino at various scales of selection, ranging from habitat through to browse selection. I showed that black rhino, a selective browser, had a significant degree of inter-individual habitat and dietary niche variation. Consequently, pooling habitat location data and diet selection data for black rhino individuals in a population does not reflect the actual selection of any, or many, individuals. To clarify which ecogeographical variables might influence this selection I ran maximum entropy models on individual‟s diurnal locations across the landscape. I was then able to develop a habitat suitability model which was based on the individual rather than population, providing a more accurate prediction. I repeated the individual models in phases, from the initial post-release phase after the release of individuals onto a new reserve through to their „settled‟ phase, allowing me to explore the effect of habitat variables on different settling phases of translocated animals. The results indicate that all the rhinos‟ acclimation phase lasted no longer than 25 days and that to minimize disturbance to the settling process all individuals in a newly released cohort should be released within this period. This study as a whole provides conservation managers with a better ecological understanding of black rhino in conjunction with a number of management tools. This will enable conservation managers to better understand the way animals utilise and perceive their environment, allowing for better monitoring and analyses of animal movements. This will aid in the development of strategic management plans in the conservation of not only animal species but also the ecosystems that they reside in and the identification of suitable areas for future conservation of animal species.