Black rhinos are a critically endangered species, far more abundant than white rhinos, their larger and more populous relatives. Ms Duthé and her colleagues analyzed 15 years of data tracking the movements of 368 of these animals in 10 South African wildlife reserves. Before 2013, none of the black rhinos included in the study were dehorned, but by 2020, 63 percent were.

The researchers found that dehorning does not increase the chance of a rhino dying from causes other than poaching. However, hornless home ranges shrank by an average of 45.5 percent, although these numbers varied among individuals. For example, one male, Hamba Njalo, lost 27 percent of his territory, leaving 9.25 square miles, while another male, Xosha, lost 82 percent of his territory, leaving just under 3 square miles.

Hornless individuals were also 37 percent less likely to engage in social interactions, particularly those between males.

“The study is robust and good science, with long-term data and a large set of observations,” said Sam Ferreira, a large mammal ecologist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s African Rhino Task Force, who was not involved in the research. research. “The results highlight the important unintended consequences of trying to tackle indirect approaches such as dehorning to counter societal pressures on rhinos,” including poaching.

Rhino poaching has subsided from its peak in 2015, when 1349 animals were killed out of the total population of African white and black rhinos, about 22,100. But the situation today remains “really critical and urgent”, Ms Duthé said, with more than 548 rhinos poached in Africa last year.

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