Non-invasive assessment of fecal glucocorticoid, progesterone, and androgen metabolites and microbiome in free-ranging southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) in South Africa. Academic Article uri icon


  • Increased poaching in northern South Africa has necessitated relocation of large numbers of southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) to the Eastern Cape Province. The climate and grassland ecology of this province differ from that of northern South Africa which may impact the health of this species. This assessment of fecal steroid levels and microbiome in 10 free-ranging southern white rhinoceros in the Eastern Cape will provide insights into white rhinoceros physiology in this biome. Fecal steroid metabolites were analyzed using enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and ultra-performance convergence chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (UPC2-MS/MS). Fecal microbial composition was assessed via next generation sequencing. EIAs with antibodies raised against progesterone (P4; mouse monoclonal - CL425 clone), testosterone (T; rabbit polyclonal), corticosterone (B; sheep polyclonal) were utilized. Pregnant females had large quantities of fecal progesterone metabolites (FPMs) detected by CL425 EIA. Pregnant females also had native P4 and 11-hydroxydihydroprogesterone (11OHDHP4; 4-pregnen-11-ol-3,20-dione) detected by UPC2-MS/MS but these concentrations were 1000-fold less than the concentrations of FPMs detected by the CL425 EIA. By contrast, non-pregnant females had FPM concentrations detected by CL425 EIA which were similar to native P4 and 11OHDHP4 concentrations detected by UPC2-MS/MS. Mean fecal androgen metabolite (FAM) concentrations detected by the T EIA were similar between males and females. 11-ketoandrostenedione (11KA4) detected by UPC2-MS/MS was higher in females than males. However, there was no difference between males and females in the concentration of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs) detected by the B EIA. Bacteroidia, followed by Clostridia, was the most abundant classes of fecal microbes. The unfiltered microbiome of females was more diverse than that of males. The core fecal microbiome of young rhinoceros had a higher observed species richness (Shannon diversity index, and Simpson diversity index) than that of old rhinoceros. In the alpha male, immobilization was associated with an increase in FGMs detected by 11-deoxycortisol (S) detected by UPC2-MS/MS coupled with decreased abundance of Spirochaetia. We detected substantially different FAM and FPM concentrations from those previously reported for both captive and wild white rhinoceros. Comparison of our UPC2-MS/MS and EIA results underscores the fact that most EIAs are highly cross reactive for many steroid metabolites. Our data also demonstrates a distinct effect of stress not only on FGMs but also on the fecal microbiome. This is the first non-invasive assessment of fecal steroid metabolites by UPC2-MS/MS and the fecal microbiome in wild white rhinoceros.

published proceedings

  • Gen Comp Endocrinol

altmetric score

  • 14.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Kothmann, K. H., Jons, A., Wilhelmi, B., Kasozi, N., Graham, L., Gent, R., ... Newell-Fugate, A. E.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Kothmann, KH||Jons, A||Wilhelmi, B||Kasozi, N||Graham, L||Gent, R||Atkin, SL||Swart, AC||Newell-Fugate, AE

publication date

  • January 2022