Sun, Jan 28|
Behavior and Reproduction in Southern White Rhino Using Thermographic Imaging
Time & Location
Jan 28, 2024, 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM EST
About the Event
Erika Defer is the Director of Research, as well as the animal department Assistant Manager, at Safari West. As part of her role, Erika coordinates the internship programs at Safari West in hopes of inspiring students to pursue a variety of careers that involve working with exotic wildlife. Erika has been working with exotic animals in various capacities since 2008. She received her B.S. in Biology from Sonoma State University and her M.S. in Animal Biology from University of California, Davis. In her undergraduate, she studied Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) and assisted in the head start program at Sonoma State University, in collaboration with the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos. Her master’s thesis focused on parasitology and social network analysis utilizing fecal testing, PFGE with commensal E. coli, and behavioral observations to determine social networks and gastrointestinal parasite infection risk in several antelope and giraffe herds housed at Safari West. In addition to her career at Safari West, Erika also serves on the Board of Directors as the Recognition team oversight for the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Outside of work life, Erika has a supportive husband, adventurous 3-year-old, a lazy but excitable dog, an elusive cat and a spunky sulcata tortoise.
Part of our responsibility of housing animals under human care is to expand our knowledge to continuously improve their wellbeing, especially for a keystone species such as the southern white rhinoceros. One of the major ways we accomplish this is through scientific research.
With the oversight of our research committee, Safari West is conducting research related to behavior and reproduction in southern white rhinos, utilizing thermographic imaging. We have seen evidence that supports the ability to detect and monitor pregnancy in our female southern white rhinoceros by monitoring changes in heat signatures on her abdomen and teats. Images are captured weekly with the FLIR® E5 XT and FLIR® E76 cameras. FLIR® Thermal Studio Suite allows us to look at temperature variation over time to determine thermal patterns. The use of this technology to detect and monitor pregnancy is innovative and, to our knowledge, has only been researched in a few species, white rhinos not being one of them. We saw a significant increase in temperature in the pregnancy field of the abdomen in the third trimester compared to the other trimesters, as well as compared to the male. We also saw a significant increase in teat temperature in the weeks leading up to parturition.
We believe the information gathered from this research is valuable, especially with species and/or individuals that it is unrealistic to collect voluntary samples from and has the potential to translate to in situ research, as it allows for non-invasive data collection. We are continuing this research project postpartum, to ascertain the use of thermographic imaging to monitor estrus cycles in southern white rhinos.