Returning the black rhino to Rwanda

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The African Exponent | April 3, 2020

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In a world filled with a mixture of beautiful wildlife, so diverse we’ll never know the true extent of it, it can be upsetting to discover that many of these animals are becoming endangered or extinct at alarming rates.

With several contributing factors, one of the most common is down to us as humans, and more and more animals are feared to become extinct in the coming decades. However, despite this, a large number of conservation efforts have been made over the years to help save these animals. One animal, which went extinct in Rwanda, the black rhino, has since been successfully re-introduced.

Original photo as published by The African Exponent

The Black Rhino

A gorgeous animal, the eastern black rhino is a sub-species of the rhinoceros. However, despite thriving back in the 1970s with more than 50 living in the Savannah habitat of the Akagera park in Rwanda, their numbers quickly declined over the decades. The black rhino, in general, has seen a huge population decrease across the globe by around 96%, falling from 70,000 to around 2,410 between 1970 and 1995.

This was primarily down to poaching, and the result of this was the black rhino going extinct in Rwanda, with the last sightings in 2007.

However, since then, efforts by animal conservation specialists have helped bring the rhino back through two successful missions.

2017 Trip

The first of these took place in May 2017. This saw 19 black rhinos brought from Johannesburg to Rwanda by animal transport specialists Intradco and Etihad Cargo with the help of Chapman Freeborn.

Taking place over two trips, the first saw ten rhinos moved via aeroplane and the second brought the additional nine. Accompanied by three vets and two attendants, great measures were taken to care for the animals, including temperature control and feed included in specially created pallets.

Commenting on the trip, Tom Lamb, the project manager for Intradco who accompanied the animals on both flights and their five-hour drive said:

“It is a brilliant achievement to return the extremely rare eastern black rhino to Rwanda after a 10-year absence. There are only 1,000 left globally so moving two percent of the world’s population was a big responsibility and challenge, and an incredible project to be a part of.

It was a privilege to be able to accompany the rhinos on their homecoming and witness their release back into the wild. We would also like to thank Etihad Cargo for their role in professionally operating the two flights.”

2019 Trip

Following the success of the 2017 trip, a dispatch of black rhinos was made two years later.

Flown in from Europe, this trip saw five rhinos brought across to help widen the gene pool in the Rwanda area. The concern was that the rhino population in the area could become damaged from in-breeding, hence the addition of non-related black rhino.

Successfully taking place in June 2019, this was the largest transportation of rhinos from Europe to Africa, with two males and three females aged between two and nine brought into the mix from Yorkshire, the Czech Republic and Denmark.

While it’s still early days, the success of the movements should hopefully see a growth in the population of this animal in the wild, with the hope that more efforts similar to this will save many more animals over the decades.

Coronavirus shutdown gives Nepal’s nature a respite

By Conservation, Land conservation, Reintroducation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
The Nepali Times| March 24, 2020

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While humans all over the planet are being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has given nature everywhere a respite.

Carbon emissions have dipped, there is almost no carbon monoxide in the air over large parts of India and China because vehicles are off the roads, NOx and sulphur dioxide concentrations in the air have dropped. The concentration of particulate matter like soot given off by industries and diesel trucks have also decreased, improving air quality over Asia’s most-polluted cities.

Here in Nepal, Mt Everest and Himalayan peaks have got a much-needed respite after the government cancelled all expeditions and treks from the mountains for the spring climbing season. There has been an international uproar last year after photos of a traffic jam on the summit ridge of Mt Everest went viral. Garbage and corpses on the mountain have gotten a lot of media attention.

Original image from The Nepali Times: Chitlang, Makwanpur. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

The sunny spring sky in Kathmandu was brilliantly clear on Tuesday, the first day of a week-long nationwide lockdown. With no traffic, and flights all grounded, there is no noise pollution in the street or the sky.

But the happiest must be wild animals in Nepal’s national parks, including those popular with tourists like Chitwan, Bardia, Langtang and Shivapuri-Nagarjun, where visitors have not been allowed since Sunday.

After the government closed schools and offices last week, Kathmandu’s residents had started arriving at Shivapuri and Chitwan by the busloads for picnics during weekend, prompting park officials to close entry on Monday.

“We had to close the parks because there was an increase in visitor numbers, but with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown from Tuesday, visitors will not be coming anyway,” said chief of Bardia National park Ananath Baral.

On Sunday, there were more than 400 visitors — about four times the daily average — at Shivapuri-Nagarjun, the national park on Kathmandu Valley’s northern and western rim.

Conservationists say the drop in human activity will be a relief to the park’s wildlife, since any extra noise can disturb their habitat and movement. Naturalist Mukesh Chalise recalls how there was an increase in wildlife in Langtang National Park after trekkers stopped coming due to the 2015 earthquake.

“It used to be difficult to see resident fauna and birds, now there are herds and flocks of them out in the open in Langtang,” Chalise says.

Due to its terrain and topographic range, Nepal has some of the richest biodiversity in a country with such a small area. There are 876 species of birds, 185 species of mammals and 651 species of butterflies in Nepal, some of them are only found here and nowhere else. National parks and protected areas cover 27% of Nepal’s area.

There has been a big increase in park visitors in the past few years. Nepal’s national parks and conservation areas registered 510,000 foreign visitors five years ago, and this grew to 701,000 last year.  There is no count of the number of Nepali visitors, and if this is added it would take the numbers to nearly 1.5 million per year.

There has also been little attempt to regulate the entry of sightseeing vehicles into national parks. In Chitwan alone, the national park issued 35 jeep permits every day for jungle safari into the core area. Bardia issued 22 jeep permits per day, with each vehicle carrying 10-14 visitors. Besides this, both Chitwan and Bardia also issue dozens of elephant safari permits.

All this has now come to a halt, and has eliminated human disturbance. Chalise says this will allow wild animals and birds to be left alone for a while which will be good for nature to rebound.

“We had already started seeing rhinos interacting more and more with humans, and acting tame. It is very dangerous for the rhino to lose its fear of humans because this may expose them to poachers,” adds Chalise, who says there should be a permanent ban on human entry into national parks. Tourists should be allowed only into the buffer zone.

Sindhu Dhungana at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, however, says that if local people do not see any advantage of eco-tourism they may not help in conservation, and visitors should be allowed but in a regulated numbers.

“The main criteria should be how much human activity is disturbing wildlife, and if it is serious numbers should be regulated,” Dhungana explains.

Lessening human entry into national parks will also prevent the spread of human diseases like tuberculosis to rhinos and elephants, and also stop viruses from wild animals infecting humans.

Chalise also warns that the nationals parks should be vigilant about increased activity of poachers taking advantage of the national shutdown to hunt wild animals either for meat or tusks, horns and pelts.

Botswana’s rhinos are under siege: It’s time to learn from historical mistakes

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Reintroducation No Comments
Erik Verreynne, Op-Ed / The Daily Maverick | January 10, 2020

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Rhinos were reintroduced to the supposedly secure sanctuary of Botswana’s Okavango Delta with the backing of the photographic safari industry and despite misgivings on the part of conservation professionals. Now the rhinos are being killed by poachers and desperate measures are called for.

News of 22 rhinos being killed by poachers on Chief’s Island in Botswana’s Okavango Delta during the past nine months, 13 of them in the past two months, has sent shockwaves through the conservation world. While Namibia reported a drop in rhino poaching statistics, the increase in poaching in northern Botswana came as a surprise and shock to many. The escalation in poaching started when 13 were poached between April 2018 and January 2019.

Botswana has been portrayed as a safe haven for rhino and elephant in the tourism marketing campaigns of the last five years, but now the government has warned that the population of rhinos in northern Botswana “could be wiped out within two years”.

Original photo as published by The Daily Maverick: White rhino, Etosha National Park, Namibia: As Namibia cracks down on rhino poaching, the poachers are now hitting targets in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. (Photo: Tony Weaver)

At least eight of the rhinos killed are the rare South Central black rhino of which most were released less than five years ago near Mombo on Chief’s Island in the middle of the Okavango Delta. The white rhinos being poached are part of a population of Southern white rhinos (SWR) reintroduced in 2002/3 in the same area, as well as nearly 100 white rhinos released recently in various photographic concessions of the Okavango Delta by Rhinos Without Borders (RWB).

There may be a number of additional reasons why rhino poaching in Botswana has been escalating since 2018. The intensification in anti-poaching measures in neighbouring Namibia may have played a role.

The main reasons, however, for the inevitable, are embedded in the notions that the previous Botswana administration and a few photographic safari operator companies ignored the warning signs and the lessons learned from Botswana’s past rhino conservation history.

They motivated rhino relocations according to the needs of the tourism industry and not the needs of rhino conservation, used it as a marketing exercise and dismantled the local advisory structures when they opposed further reintroductions in the Okavango Delta. In short, tourism demand for the “Big Five” superseded the risks posed to rhinos in the Okavango Delta despite the warnings and warning signs, and rhinos were released in potentially high-risk areas where they never should have been.

Botswana has always had a turbulent relationship with rhinos with two near-extinctions of its wild rhino population in the 20th century. The central driver is the sparsely populated, vast open wilderness areas interspersed with the waterways of the Okavango Delta, all in close proximity to unfenced international borders. The location and geography allow easy covert intrusion and quick escape routes by syndicates based in neighbouring countries, and renders monitoring and law enforcement challenging and very expensive.

Both black and white rhinos were believed to have gone extinct in Botswana in the 1890s. Reintroductions of 156 SWR between 1967 and 1980 from South Africa into Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park were wiped out by cross-border poaching.

An extensive aerial survey in 1992resulted in estimates of only 27 rhinos left of the wild population in the north, of which three were killed shortly after the aerial survey. The decision was made to capture all rhinos left, bringing them into the protection of the newly established Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and breed them up to be released once the security situation has changed.

Six SWR were subsequently captured in Chobe and Moremi between 1992 and 1996 of which only four survived (one died of bullet wounds inflicted while in Chobe). The population at Khama Rhino Sanctuary was supplemented with animals from Pilanesberg National Park and Mafikeng Game Reserve in South Africa, and soon grew into an “Important 1” population and later into a “Key 2” population according to the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) classification (Emslie and Brooks, 1999).

The last few years of the old millennium brought some relief to rhinos, allowing wild populations to grow and allowing the establishment of various closed system semi-wild populations both in Botswana and the rest of the region. A sense of security, even though fragile, prevailed.

A new introduction of SWR from South Africa and Zimbabwe into the Okavango Delta started in 2003 as a collaboration between Okavango Wilderness Safaris (later Wilderness Safaris), the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Zimbabwe National Parks, SANParks and North West Parks Board where 33 SWR and five black rhino were reintroduced into Mombo on Chief’s Island.

A number of rhinos dispersed from Chief’s Island during the following years despite the island being surrounded with water for parts of the year. The movements of dispersing rhinos outside Chief’s Island were regularly reported to authorities by communities and hunting concessionaires, and their cooperation made retrieval and relocation possible.

Most individuals were captured and relocated back to Mombo. Not all were fortunate and two sub-adults that followed the zebra migration routes to the Makgadikgadi National Park were poached in Nxai Pan National Park. Another dispersing rhino was poached 35km West of Maun while a breeding bull relocated to Makgadikgadi Pan National Park was also poached not far from the scout camp. Despite these continuous dispersals and isolated cases of poaching, the core population settled well and grew into a “Key 2” population during this period of relative safety in the region.

Nearly 10 years after the 2003 reintroduction, the regional security situation changed for the worse. First Zimbabwe, then South Africa experienced unprecedented levels of rhino poaching. Namibia was to follow four years later.

Members of the Botswana Rhino Management Committee (BRMC), a national representative advisory committee to the Director of DWNP, were concerned about the announced reintroductions of 100 to 300 rhinos by RWB from “high-risk poaching areas in South Africa to the comparative safety of Botswana”.

The concern was based on the history of rhino poaching in Botswana, the difficult terrain near open international borders and the changing regional poaching threat. An assessment of the risks in the Delta and a change to an alternative Intensive Protection Zone outside the Delta were proposed with the contingency plan of placing half the intended rhinos in a sanctuary where they could be adequately protected.

The translocations went ahead despite the concerns and according to their website, RWB translocated a further 87 SWR between 2013 and 2017 to exclusive high-end tourism concessions in the Delta. Wilderness Safaris translocated a significant number of South Central black rhinos to Mombo from South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2015. Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB) was established as a trust and took over most of the monitoring of the rhinos. Rhinos responded as in the past, a few dispersing from release sites with some even ending up in Namibia.

The wild population is now experiencing the next onslaught as security improves in neighbouring range states. Zambian syndicates with alleged insider information and assistance are killing rhinos in the main Intensive Protection Zone of the Okavango Delta at an alarming rate despite monitoring by RCB and a strong Botswana Defence Force (BDF) presence. Soldiers issued with automatic weapons are patrolling the area and reportedly not hesitating to kill when threatened. The government of Botswana said in a statement that seven poachers have been killed so far.

Compared to other African range states, the loss of fewer than 20 rhinos per year seems low. However, the impact on a wild population of only 200 SWR and less than 50 black rhino is enormous and losses to poaching are already exceeding the population growth rate of Botswana’s wild population.

If it continues, and all indications are it will, we are in danger of experiencing another extinction of our wild rhino population in Botswana. Once the high concentration population of Mombo has been depleted or secured, other areas will follow until our anti-poaching capacity is stretched beyond its limit. It is naïve, maybe even arrogant, to believe we can totally protect a population of 200-plus rhinos spread over vast wilderness areas when finding them for monitoring is already a challenge.

The cost of monitoring the rhinos in such a vast and difficult area is enormous. Cost and manpower are difficult to define. If we take suggested required budgets cited by Clive and Anton Walker (Rhino Revolution, 2017) for protecting rhinos in SA at $1,115 to $2,231/km² per year with a personnel need of one ranger per 15-30km² ( for reserves 1,000km² and larger), then the roughly 1,050km² Chief’s Island will require an annual budget of at least $1.17-million with 35 rangers constantly patrolling the area. The manpower required exceeds the available Anti-Poaching Unit capacity which, with the BDF, is also tied up over a much wider theatre with an increase in ivory poaching and tons of bushmeat leaving the Delta annually.

The proposed budget required for Chief’s Island (just 0.12% of Botswana land surface) alone is more than 1.5% of the ministry’s total recurrent budget for 2018/19 and about 10% of Wilderness Holdings declared profit before tax for the 2018 financial year. And the question remains: Are the rhinos benefiting more by keeping them in these high-risk areas?

Even if we can come up with the budget, a policy that only focuses on “fighting fire-with-fire” will not safeguard all the rhinos and responses to poaching incidents will remain reactive. Proactive intelligence is important to prevent incidents and this is only possible with the goodwill of the surrounding communities. The government in its statement indicated that it has “considerably stepped up efforts to address the poaching situation” and some rifles and horns were retrieved. Is it enough though?

We must not for one minute believe the onslaught is from neighbouring countries only. With communities left out of direct benefits from rhinos and other wildlife in the Delta for more than five years, the sympathetic eyes and listening ears of surrounding communities have long faded or are looking the other way.

You now only need one disgruntled employee to inform. Rhino locations in the photographic tourism industry are exciting news and knowledge is shared from managers down to cleaners. Some people believe rhinos are worth more dead than alive, and with communities not benefitting, it will take time to change the perception, unless we can demonstrate direct and immediate benefits to communities in looking after rhinos.

It is time to abandon idealism and face reality before we are again left with only 27 rhinos. History can be harsh in its judgement and time will not forgive Botswana if it fails. The solution to the present carnage lies in a swift and pragmatic reaction to safeguard as many of the rhinos in the Delta as possible by relocating a significant proportion of them to safer, smaller, community-based sanctuaries away from the hotspot areas – at least until we can change the value perception of rhinos.

The terrain will not change. The poaching onslaught will not change soon. What needs to change first is the risk to poachers which can only be achieved by concentrating the population in smaller areas where we can concentrate our defences optimally. It is a concept used all over the region with even Kruger National Park in South Africa resorting to moving their remaining rhinos to a fenced-off Intensive Protection Zone.

The concept has shown success in the private and community-owned southern population of Botswana where the other half of Botswana’s rhinos are looked after with assistance of the BDF in sufficiently sized units as semi-wild populations. Only five rhinos were lost to poaching in 2018 in these populations and none in 2019.

Secondly, by benefitting communities as custodians of the rhinos, the beast from within is neutralised and the concept that rhinos are worth more dead than alive is diluted. Proactive information becomes available and informant risks increase.

History dictates a repeat of the 1992 emergency relocations and the establishment of another, safer, community-based rhino sanctuary as obvious. We dare not ignore it.

Significant funding is needed to move these rhinos back into safety. However, the funding required should be significantly less than when translocating the rhinos to Botswana from South Africa. If the industry could generate enough funding to move the rhinos to Botswana, they should be able to generate enough to remove them to safety.

Rhinos are not a key species. The biodiversity in the north of Botswana flourished in their absence for many years. But as a flagship species, they deserve to be protected, and keeping them in high-risk areas for the sake of tourism is against all sound principles. Tourism, like any other form of wildlife utilisation, must promote conservation in a sustainable way. When it fails, as is the case with rhinos, responsible tourism should be willing to give up the privilege of seeing endangered species in the wild.

Viewing semi-wild rhino in Botswana is better than viewing no rhino at all.

Dr Erik Verreynne (BVSc, M.Phil Wildlife Management) is a wildlife and livestock veterinarian in Botswana. He is the co-ordinator of the Research and Veterinary Working Group, and Rhino Working Group of the Botswana Wildlife Producers’ Association.


N Bengal rhino habitats get motorcycles from Aaranyak to boost protection (India)

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The Shillong Times | October 1, 2019

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GUWAHATI: Northeast based biodiversity conservation and research organisation, Aaranyak on Monday gifted eight motorcycles to Department of Forest, Wildlife North of West Bengal to boost rhino conservation efforts in all habitat of North Bengal area.

It is significant that eight (Bajaj Pulsar 150 CC NEON ABS) motorcycles were handed over to the West Bengal Forest Department’s North Wildlife Circle on the day when the first meeting of the expert committee was held on reintroduction of Indian one-horned rhinoceros at Patlakhowa grassland in Cooch Behar area.

Original photo by David Llyod


The motorcycles were handed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) and Head of Forest Force (HOFF), West Bengal, S Barari, IFS, to respective forest divisions at Hollong Forest Rest House (FRH) in Jaldapara National Park.

Senior officials of West Bengal Forest Department including Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW), R K Sinha, CCF (North Circle), G P Chhetri, CCF Wildlife (North), Ujjal Ghosh and DFOs of Jaldapara, Gorumara and Coochbehar.

Aaranyak’s CEO, Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar who is also the Chair of Asian Rhino Specialist Group of the IUCN and Asia Coordinator of International Rhino Foundation, was present in the function. The motorcycles have been provided by Aaranyak with support from Born Free Foundation and in association with Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.

The eight motorcycles which are expected to boost the protection mechanism in rhino habitat of North Bengal area, are being distributed among four wildlife divisions of North Bengal areas – three for Jaldapara Wildlife Division, two for Gorumara Wildlife Division, two for Coochbehar Wildlife Division and one for Jalpaiguri Wildlife Division.

The West Bengal Forest Department have decided to reintroduce rhinos at Patlakhowa grassland where the erstwhile habitat was destroyed because of change of course by River Torsa, keeping in tune with its principle of not keeping all the eggs in one basket.

The Forest Department wants to spread out the rhino population in North Bengal to secure the future of the species. Local communities have been consulted before taking the decision to translocate rhinos to Patlakhowa from neighbouring protected areas of Jaldapara and Gorumara sanctuaries.

About five to six rhinos are being translocated to rejuvenated grassland at Patlakhowa where the rhino used to stroll till about 60 years back. The Forest Department has already mapped the area and is constructing protection fence to create an enclosure for the translocated rhinos at Patlakhowa.

Patlakhowa is being developed as an ‘extension colony’ of the rhinoceros in North Bengal areas of West Bengal where rhino population has shown a steady growth during the last three decades. According to reports, there were 14 rhinos in Jaldapara in 1988. As per Rhino Census report published by West Bengal Forest Dept 2019, in Jaldapara there are at least 231 individuals while in Gorumara, Chapramari area have 52 rhinos. There are minimum 283 rhinos and maximum 289 rhinos.