Interbirth intervals are associated with age of the mother, but not with infant mortality in Indian rhinoceroses
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Rhinoceroses are among the most endangered mammals in the world. Despite a recent increase in numbers in most wild populations, poaching or political instability may exterminate large populations very quickly. Therefore, captive or ex situ rhinoceros populations can play an important role in their conservation. Previous studies identified infant mortality and interbirth intervals among the main parameters affecting the viability and survival of rhinoceros populations. In our study, we tested the recently suggested prediction that in captive Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis, longer interbirth intervals may result in higher infant mortality. We also examined the factors that are the main predictors of infant mortality and interbith intervals using the studbook data on Indian rhinoceros born in zoos worldwide as well as data from Dudhwa National Park, India, where rhinoceroses were successfully reintroduced. We found no association between interbirth intervals and infant mortality. In both populations, the main predictor of infant mortality was mother’s parity, with higher mortality in calves born to primiparous mothers. In addition, we found that the interbirth intervals were shorter in zoos than in Dudhwa and that they increased with increase in age of the mother, which was the only factor affecting interbirth interval in both populations. Our results show that the same factors affect both parameters in both populations and thus illustrate that the reproduction and infant survival of Indian rhinoceros in zoos reflect the natural pattern. Furthermore, we suggest that in captivity, the interbirth intervals could be slightly prolonged to approach the situation in the wild.
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