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Black rhinoceroes face extinction

The black rhinoceros is on the verge of extinction because of poachers, according to scientists from Cardiff University. The university’s study determined that, to combat this issue, a new conservation plan must be implemented.

The black rhinoceros was once a genetically distinct population within Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Somalia. However, they are currently extinct in these countries, now surviving in only Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, along with a few individuals in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southern Kenya. Populations plummeted in the 20th century until the 1990s, when thorough care resulted in a return of 5,000 rhinoceroses by 2014.

Poaching has jeopardized these rescue efforts. The poaching of the black rhinoceros in South Africa grew from 13 rhinoceroses per year in 2007 to 455 by October 2012. In Zimbabwe, an average of 39 rhinoceroses were killed every year between 2000 and 2011. Annual poaching has claimed over 1,000 rhinoceroses since 2013. If this trend continues, the number of rhinoceros deaths will surpass the number of births by 2018.

Scientists conducted their inquiry by using both mitochondrial and nuclear datasets. They used DNA that was removed from a mixture of tissue and fecal samples from Africa and the United States and museum specimens from European collections, private hunters, universities and zoos. The mitochondrial DNA was boosted and structured in an order for 402 black rhinoceroses. The researchers sequenced the DNA to see how a loss of diversity will impact populations. The researchers’ next steps were to use classical DNA profiling to see genetic diversity in past and present populations. They would then compare the description and sequences of animals in different locations across Africa.

This was the first study that explained the geographic levels and genetic variations in the black rhinoceros. Researchers reported a 69 percent decline in the species’ mitochondrial genetic difference. Nearly all ancestral roots are now nonexistent in present day populations. Only five gene pools of unfamiliar genetic links remain.

The results demonstrated that examining the populations of the black rhinoceros have been limited because of little understanding of the species’ genetic changes. Despite an extensive historic dispersal, the black rhinoceros was thought to have poor genetic variation.

This has restricted conservation attempts because poaching has shrunk the species’ former distribution. Mitochondrial DNA variation was not consistent. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda displayed the highest amount of museum sample imbalances.

Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe came after. Additionally, there was little diversity found in northeast, west, and southwest Africa. Out of the 20 countries where black rhinoceros samples were extracted from, only five countries had indigenous populations of black rhinoceroses.

Of the 64 haplotypes, or a cluster of genes that are inherited from one parent, only 31 percent were found in samples from existent populations. This indicates a crucial loss of mitochondrial variety during the 20th century. This drop was also noticeable at the country level: Kenya and Tanzania were the most affected because the number of haplotypes declined from 34 to 11. Six haplotypes declined to one in South Africa. Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Zambezi Valley did not lose haplotypes.

Mitochondrial sequence variation was highly structured and consisted of three different origins. The most recognizable one included two haplotypes sampled only from animals west of the Chari River in Chad. The second lineage was found in northeastern and northwestern Africa, and the third lineage was scattered in Central, eastern and southern sub-Saharan Africa.

Scientists further analyzed whether the remaining black rhinoceros population and the five surviving country populations have experienced demographic shifts due to the local and genetic extinctions shown. A BEAST analysis, or a Bayesian evolutionary analysis, confirmed that the black rhinoceros population’s downfall began 200 years ago, and hit its lowest point 15 years ago.

Massive drops were evident in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Low levels of genetic variations were found in these countries, implying that there were demographic effects. South Africa had the earliest beginnings of genetic decay over 200 years ago, but the depletion in the other four countries arose within the last 200 years.

All five countries were at their lowest population sizes in the second half of the 20th century due to the rise of prohibited hunting of rhinoceroses for their horns. The study recommends a complete revision of current conservation methods for the black rhinoceros. Since 44 of 64 genetic lineages are extinct, the research states that the conservation of genetically distinct black rhinoceroses should be a concern.

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