Inability to sweat puts rhinos at risk as global warming worsens

A rhino is released into the wild at Loisaba Conservancy in Laikipia. [File, Standard]

The inability of rhinos to sweat makes them vulnerable to increasing temperatures, and their populations may not survive under predicted climate change scenarios, a new study has revealed.

A study conducted in February 2024 by a team of researchers to establish how temperature rises under climate change scenarios, revealed that rising temperatures will particularly affect rhinos because they naturally do not sweat.

They only bathe or seek shade to keep cool.

The study, led by a team from the University of Massachusetts and published in the Biodiversity journal, predicted temperature changes in national parks in Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania, and Eswatini.

They assessed the effect of temperature changes on black and white rhinoceroses over the next 30-60 years.

“We looked back in history to see how rhinos lived in southern Africa and one park in Kenya. We looked at the temperature and rainfall averages in each of the best locations for rhinos, and then we mapped out the extremes,” lead author Prof Timothy Randhir said.

In Kenya, the researchers focused on Tsavo West National Park to quantify the rhinos’ probability of future existence based on potential changes predicted in climatic conditions.

“Tsavo West National Park will warm progressively from the northeastern parts towards the south. The temperature increase will be about 4.0°C, and by 2085, the temperatures in the park will be well beyond all previous recorded levels,” the researchers said.

They concluded that climate change will significantly reduce the probability of black and rhino species surviving.

“The sensitivity of rhinos to climate change can be significant and needs management strategies that protect this wildlife through explicitly incorporating climate predictions in management plans,” Randhir said.

The researchers predict that while the parks will still exist by 2085, there will be a need for many new water sources so that the rhinos can cool off at much more frequent intervals.

For rhinos to survive the climate change scenario, researchers recommended the creation of corridors where they can move.

The researchers also recommended that the parks will also need to establish undisturbed tree cover to provide important areas for cooling off.

“The national parks must add patches of tree cover that are deliberately planned so that in the rhinos’ home range, they do not need to walk further and further to find shade to cool down in,” Randhir said.