Great strides in conservation have resulted in the gradual recovery of Kenya’s black rhinos from less than 400 individuals in the late 1980s to 696 at the end of 2016. Intensive anti-poaching efforts have also reduced the number of poached black rhinos to less than 1% each year. But there’s still more to learn about saving this species.
Conservationists believe that reproductive drivers, such as hormones, are key to understanding black rhino population growth. In the region of Kenya where I work, they have observed that some female rhinos have many more babies than others do.
To understand this phenomenon, they are turning to hormones for clues. This is where our endocrinology study comes in; endocrinology is the branch of biology and medicine that deals with the endocrine system, which regulates hormones.
We want to know how variations in hormones relate to a rhino’s reproductive output — in other words, how changes in hormone levels, timing or cycling affect whether a rhino has babies at an expected rate.
To find out, we’re focusing on female black rhinos at Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. And we’re using a completely noninvasive way to monitor their hormones: poop!