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Intensive production of black rhinoceroses

5 June 2015



Black rhinoceroses can be produced intensively because they adapt well to living in bomas and larger camps. However, the objective should always be to release them eventually into a larger area where they can be free-ranging. Because of their high value and the threat of poaching, the black rhinoceros will require excellent management and security. Successful management includes regular monitoring of the size of the population, the reproductive success of each adult cow, the age and sex structure of the population and the occurrence and causes of any mortalities. In captivity the diet of a black rhinoceros should also be monitored carefully, and especial care should be taken to prevent a black rhinoceros from eating harmful or toxic plants.

An area should contain at least 3000 ha of suitable habitat to re-establish black rhinoceroses later. Avoid regions where heavy frost will affect the quality of the winter browse. The death of just one black rhinoceros is a huge loss, both financially and in terms of conservation because of its rarity. Apart from the biological nature of the area of release, its security, infrastructure, the possibility of land claims, possible diseases and parasites, the quality of the fencing and the financial resources of the landowner should also be taken into consideration before any relocation of black rhinoceroses is considered.

Although all the black rhinoceroses in South Africa are the descendants of only a small original population, the inherent genetic heterogeneity of the black rhinoceros is sufficient to keep the possibility of inbreeding low. In small populations that are being re-established, a new young cow should be introduced to the population every 20 to 30 years, although the introduction of a young cow every ten years will be better to prevent the bulls from eventually  breeding with their own descendants. Because strange bulls are apt to fight among each other and this leads to poor production the introduction of new bulls is not advisable. The objective should rather be to establish a breeding herd of more than 20 black rhinoceroses, and to do so large, suitable areas are required. The establishment of populations of fewer than ten black rhinoceroses as a breeding herd will necessitate the management of the population as part of a meta-population for the entire region. The best results will be obtained by establishing single adult cows, cows with young calves and a few adult bulls. Introducing new, adult bulls to augment the population is seldom successful.

Currently Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal is the largest source of black rhinoceroses which are being sold as family groups of at least six animals. These black rhinoceroses are at first kept in bomas for several months to become tame and habituated to captivity. When black rhinoceroses are being re-established in any area, they should also at first be kept in a boma to allow them to become habituated to their new environment. The boma must be sturdy because a black rhinoceros will always attempt to escape from captivity. The specifications for such a boma are discussed in more detail in the references below. In addition, the sides of the boma should be electrified.

The boma should preferably be built in the middle of the proposed release site so as to prevent the rhinoceroses from coming into contact with fences immediately after their release. There should also be an ample supply of natural food and water in the vicinity. Large trees are necessary for shade but otherwise shade should be provided. The boma should be protected against cold winds and it must be away from busy roads and other human disturbances, but it should be easily accessible with vehicles. No or only little gravel should be present in the boma, and there should be no loose rocks in the boma as they will injure the feet of the rhinoceroses. The boma should be protected against veld fires with firebreaks and must drain well after rain.

A boma of 10 x 10 m to habituate the rhinoceroses to captivity in their new environment before being released later is necessary. Such a boma is smaller than what will be required for a white rhinoceros. The diameter of the posts for the sides of a boma should be at least 200 mm (steel) or 300 mm (wooden), and the posts should be spaced 200 to 300 mm apart to allow the rhinoceroses to see each other and to the outside. The posts should protrude at least 2.2 m above the ground level. The corners of the boma should be rounded with transverse posts so that a rhinoceros cannot become trapped in a corner, especially soon after having been offloaded. Plastic tarpaulins should not be used because they will flap in the wind and disturb the rhinoceroses.

The boma may be fitted with a roof over a corner furthest away from human activity. Bomas should not be constructed with cables because rhinoceroses may climb onto the cables to escape, or their heads may become entangled in the cables and suffocate them. Wooden posts should not be treated with creosote but with tanalith, and they must be anchored firmly. Simple sliding gates of wooden posts can be constructed between vertical posts, but metal gates are preferred. No scrap, such as pieces of metal or wire, should lie about in a boma.

Food is given on a concrete slab which is at least 30 mm above the ground. Antelope pellets should not be fed to black rhinoceroses because the cottonseed products my contain gossypol which is toxic. A vitamin C-complex syrup can initially be mixed with the drinking water, but as soon as the rhinoceroses eat well it can be discontinued. Old browse should be removed twice per day and the sand on the floor of the boma should be replaced weekly.

An adult black rhinoceros will eat some 28 to 30 kg of fresh browse per day in a boma. Wilted food should never be given but fresh lucerne of a good quality can be given from three to four days after release in a boma. An adult black rhinoceros in a boma should eat some 15 to 20 kg of lucerne and 5 kg of horse cubes such as Boskos per day. Before being released, the lucerne should be reduced gradually and be replaced with natural browse.

Each water trough should be some 1 m wide x 1.5 m long x 400 mm deep and the sides should not protrude more than 300 mm above the ground. The trough should contain a drain pipe to the outside of the boma and should be cleaned regularly. It should be disinfected every second week with a suitable disinfectant, should have rounded corners and the entire trough should be placed inside the boma. The boma should not be cleaned within the first four to five days after the rhinoceroses have been released into it, but thereafter it should be done daily.

A guard at night who is in direct contact with the person in charge is important. Each rhinoceros should be placed in a separate boma, but a cow and her calf can be kept together although they must at first be separated to allow the cow to calm down. Black rhinoceroses that come from the same area and know each other will calm down quicker than those that are strangers to each other. Black rhinoceroses are aggressive after capture and should then be treated calmly and with care. However, they will calm down within a few days of capture and in the end become tamer than white rhinoceroses.

To raise a black rhinoceros calf as an orphan is difficult and requires milk supplements, experience and a suitable infrastructure. A surrogate cow is often the key to success. The milk of a black rhinoceros contains 8.1 % solids, a trace of fat, 6.06 % of lactose, 1.54 % of protein and 0.34 % of ash. The body temperature, weight and physical condition of the calf should be monitored continually. Exercise, sunlight and security are vital components of success, and regular parasite control and a mud bath are important. The teeth of a black rhinoceros appear at the age of three to four weeks and the calf weans when it is 18 months old.

Following release, a fixed protocol should be followed to be able to keep black rhinoceroses successfully. Harvesting black rhinoceroses will depend on the number of surplus animals which can be used for relocation elsewhere. More details appear in the references below.



Du Toit, J G 2005. The black rhinoceros. In J du P Bothma & N van Rooyen (Eds), Intensive wildlife production in southern Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik, pp 56 - 77.

Pienaar, D J & J G du Toit 2015. The white and the black rhinoceros. In J du P Bothma & J G du Toit (Eds), Game ranch management, sixth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik. In press.


article by Prof J du P Bothma


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