Vanessa Duthé


Research interests

I am interested in exploring ecological interactions amongst species within ecosystems with a conservation perspective. Understanding these complex interactions leads to improved management of protected areas and protection of endangered species is more successful. I am passionate about African ecology and more specifically, large mammalian herbivores and their effect on their ecosystem as well as measures leading to their protection and range expansion.

The Black Rhino Conservation Ecology Project

Among the few black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) that survive being poached for their horns, habitat loss makes this species Africa’s most endangered megaherbivore. The greatest challenge for management, however, is that our understanding of the precise ecological requirements to support rhino populations is not complete. Population dynamics monitored in the wild fail to align with calculated estimates for potential carrying capacity. Recent work shows discrepancies between predicted and realized carrying capacities may be due to inaccurate estimations of plant species' relative contributions to an animal's overall diet and habitat use. Habitats that provide all the necessary components for maximizing this species growth rate, as well as those requiring minimal long-term management are important targets for black rhino translocation efforts in order to expand this megaherbivore's range and create new populations.

This project aims at precisely quantifying black rhino’s ecological niche and habitat use by investigating feeding ecology and factors driving selective foraging and through the use of a novel monitoring technology. More specifically, GPS-based transmitters adapted to black rhino morphology and behavior that use Long Range (LoRa) technology have been deployed in Ithala Game Reserve (South Africa) to gather accurate habitat use data and enhance anti-poaching actions. Ultimately, we hope to contribute to black rhino conservation through research by improving our knowledge on black rhino ecological requirements and assessing management practices.

Main topics

  • Diet and foraging ecology
  • Temporal and spatial habitat use
  • Parasite load
  • Competition with other browsers
  • Dehorning
  • Carrying capacity


Duthé, V., Defossez, E., van der Westhuizen, R., Glauser, G., & Rasmann, S. (2020). Out of scale out of place: Black rhino forage preference across the hierarchical organization of the savanna ecosystem. Conservation Science and Practice, 2(5), 1-10.


LoRhino : Phase 1

Black Rhino Conservation Ecology Project, deuxième phase. Actualités HEIG-VD

Dies academicus 2020 – chercheurs sans frontières. La sauvegarde des rhinocéros noirs en Afrique du Sud.

Rhinocéros noirs en observation. Journal en direct