Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

John A. Bissonette


John A. Bissonette


Gary Belovsky


Michael Wolfe


Edward Evans


James Powell


All species of Tapiridae and Rhinocerotidae are threatened or endangered in the wild. Captive populations have been established for most of these species, but successful management has proved challenging. Effective ex situ conservation strategies, however, rely on the ability of zoological institutions to maintain and breed these endangered species. In this study, I examined the captive environment to identify the factors associated with reproduction, mortality, and health of rhinos and tapirs. Zoological institutions in the North American region that currently housed rhinos and/or tapirs were surveyed in 2003. Attaining an approximately 90% response rate, I compiled information on the following variables to describe the captive environment: number of enclosures, enclosure type, enclosure area, number of animals, public viewing, percent of walls surrounding the enclosure, enclosure substrate, topography, vegetation, mud wallows, pools, shelters, percent shade, climate, diet, feeding regime, time spent by keepers, and vaccinations. Information regarding the incidence of health problems also was obtained through the survey. Studbook data was used to obtain life history and demographic information.

Three species of tapirs [Baird's (Tapirus bairdii), South American (T. terrestris), and Malay (T. indicus)] and three species of rhinos [black (Diceros bicornis), white (Ceratotherium simum), and Indian (Rhinoceros unicornis)] were included in this study. Due to the small captive population sizes, genetic and demographic Allee effects were detected. While tapirs responded similarly to their captive environment, each rhino species responded differently. Both exhibit area and completely were associated with the responses of captive tapirs and rhinos. Climate also was an influential factor for both groups of species. Other key factors included density, diet, keeper time, percent of public perimeter, and vaccinations. Complex interactions among the variables were found, including a nonlinear relationship between mean exhibit size and reproduction for black rhinos.

The results of this study can be used to improve the captive management of tapirs and rhinos. By identifying the patterns associated with successful reproduction, reduced mortality, and fewer health problems, we can move towards establishing self-sustaining populations for these species. This goal is critical for the continued husbandry and conservation of these species.