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The good, the bad and the ugly of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020

By Antipoaching, Archeology, Translocation No Comments
Mubina Akhtar, Opinion / Northeast Now | March 3, 2020

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On February 29, 2020, two more rhinos were moved out of the Kaziranga National Park to the Manas National Park –a distance of 280km–as part of the translocation programme under the Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020.

Both the rhinos–mother “Faguni” and her sub adult offspring “Asha” covered the distance overnight and were released in the Bansbari Range of Manas National Park in the wee hours of March 1. With their release, altogether 20 rhinos have now been shifted to Manas under the IRV programme scheduled to end by the middle of this year. Eighteen rhinos have already been translocated to Manas since 2008.

An ideal habitat for the breeding of the Great Indian One-Horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga has seen a rise in the number of the species. The animal shrugged off its ‘endangered’ tag once its population crossed the 2000 mark.

This fuelled an overweening strategy–the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 designed by the Rhino Task Force– that targeted 3,000 rhinos by the year 2020 in the rhino-bearing sanctuaries of Assam.

Manas National Park, another World Heritage Site and Laokhowa and Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuaries remained preferred destinations for the translocation of rhinos under the IRV 2020 initiative. However, translocation to these wildlife areas remained a daunting task as these sites continue to be vulnerable to poaching activities.

Original photo as published by Northeast Now: Translocated rhino at Manas National Park. (Photo: Northeast Now)

The Setback for IRV 2020

Started on April 12, 2008, IRV’s translocation process came under the scanner after more than half of the trans-located rhinos to Manas fell prey to the bullets of poachers. Without adequate patrolling staff, it was a colossal task for a few people to constantly guard the animals against human rapacity.

The killing of these trans-located animals since 2011 in Manas World Heritage Site triggered the World Heritage Committee to send an alarm to the state that further deterioration of protection in Manas and subsequent damage caused to key attributes in Manas may lead to de-listing Manas from the World Heritage Site list.

The death of the rhinos in Manas had been a huge setback for the IRV 2020 programme.

Instead of dealing with the long-term conservation challenges and preservation of this unique site, the Indian Rhino Vision only went on pulling out rhinos from Kaziranga and Pobitora for translocation solely keeping in view the magic figure of 3,000 rhinos by 2020.

They even went on for a temporary band-aid effort of “trimming” horns on rhinos to be trans-located to Burhachapori and also on stray rhinos. The decision, taken at the IRV 2020 partners meeting on January 30, 2014 at the Assam State Zoo was met with strong opposition from conservationists and the State forest department was compelled to abandon the idea.

However, IRV continued with the translocation process and sent another mature female and her offspring to Burhachapori. An ex forest official of the Assam forest department, on conditions of anonymity, said, “Rhinos endure a certain amount of stress during the translocation process. It was a terrible sight– when after regaining consciousness– the mother rhino wounded itself with multiple injuries each time it stumbled on the thorny barrier in the effort to free itself from captivity. Further, the mother suffered a grave cut in the ear during notching, that turned septic and the animal died a slow and painful death. The orphaned calf suffered a great deal during the floods. The calf suffered serious stomach ailments that finally brought the end to the poor animal.”

With the death of the translocated rhinos in Burhachapori the whole IRV process became very controversial. There were allegations that the IRV stakeholders simply washed off their hands once translocation process was over; they were never bothered about the safety of the trans-located animals. This was indeed a grave allegation. The death of rhinos not only contradicts the conservation efforts but undoubtedly overshadowed the whole IRV process.

After the debacle at Burhachapori, many conservation NGOs of the state were seen protesting against the translocation programme of IRV. They held responsible the IRV stakeholders– Department of Environment and Forests, Assam; WWF-India; International Rhino Foundation (IRF); Bodoland Territorial Counci; US Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations associated with the Project — for the death of at least 13 rhinos–those trans-located from Kaziranga and Pobitora.

Kaziranga Wildlife Society, Early Birds, Aranya Suraksha Samity, Green Guard, The Green Society and Centre for Conservation, Education and Research demanded the forest department to stop the translocation process at once. The NGOs alleged that translocation was carried out without prior and proper security arrangement of the targeted area. There were also severe allegations of negligence towards security and health monitoring of the animals. The NGOs also demanded the government to institute an inquiry into the death of all trans-located rhinos and make public the post mortem report of the female rhino died in the ‘Boma’ in Burhachapori.

Several student organizations including the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) also came out to voice their concern against killing of rhinos in the name of “translocation” under Indian Rhino Vision 2020.

Some Good Things

Once home to more than 80 rhinos, the entire rhino population in Manas National Park was wiped out during the ethnic unrest between 1988 and 2001.

The Government of Assam in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) started the process of re-introduction of rhinos in Manas. Rhino calves orphaned by flood in Kaziranga National Park and hand-reared in the CWRC –the rescue and rehabilitation centre stationed at Kaziranga—were sent to Manas National Park between the years 2006 and 2014.

From these calves and with those captured from the wild as part of IRV translocation between 2008 and 2012–rhino population in Manas National Park increased to 42 and the population now seemed to be well established.

Along with the growth of a viable Rhino population, Manas regained her (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

However, there have been more negatives than positives in the whole IRV story.


A section of forest staff in the Manas and also rhino experts allege that more than 10 translocated rhinos had been killed since 2011 to 2016, but authorities failed to nab a single culprit. On the other hand, a female rhino remained untraceable for the last two years.

“The same sets of people do the security assessments before every rhino translocation to the Park,” they further alleged.

Protection measures continue to remain inadequate– so much so that–Park authorities and other organizations lost more than 20 camera traps from the Panbari and first addition areas of the Park since 2018.

Poaching simply has not stopped. Sources said a group of poachers had fired at a male rhino recently in Manas National Park. The injured rhino strayed out from the core area and it was detected near a village. Photos show bullet marks on the right shoulder and it was bleeding.

“More than five hand-reared rhinos died in Manas due to infighting as these rhinos were incapable to escape a wild bull. Mixing of hand-reared animals with those captured from the wild simply proved disastrous,” said a forest official.

The primordial wilderness of Manas has been plagued by other challenges like– shrinking of habitat, encroachment of the corridors around the Park, siltation of water bodies, rise in invasive weeds that have the capacity to kill native flora such as grasses and others that are important fodder plants for the rhino along with development activities.

Un-checked growth in tourism activities, road construction along the Indo-Bhutan border and a complete lack of protection of the watershed of Manas have raised more concerns over the future of this World Heritage site. Prime rhino habitat stretches continue to be under encroachment.

Large swathes of the species’ habitat have been lost over the years. More than 200 acres in the Bhuyanpara Range have been encroached (since 2012-2017) but there had been no action to evict the encroachers. Similarly, addition areas of some 350 sq km face the same fate. From the western bank of the river Beki to the critical Panbari range, the Park remains vulnerable without any protection. Important ranges like the Bansbari and Bhuynapara have no designated Range Officer for last couple of years.

The Way Forward

With the growth of wildlife population as well as the ever swelling human habitations in and around the Park, it has become a daunting task to meet these challenges without proper advisory and practice.

“Rhino-bearing areas need to be made encroachment free and scientific management of existing rhino-bearing areas must be taken up urgently,” said an expert on conditions of anonymity.

“Rather than Manas, the State Forest Department must search areas to broaden rhino range around Pobitora and Amchang Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Brahmaputra river channel from Kaziranga to Orang should also be declared as rhino zone.”

“What is lacking in rhino conservation in India is that we have no new research available on the species. We are dependent on other international organizations for all the data and information. The Government must encourage more research and declare a package without the support of any foreign agencies,” he added.


Logistics is so much more than just delivering the mundane

By Conservation, Relocation No Comments
The Handy Shipping Guide | February 24, 2020

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RWANDA: Logistics is often far more than simply shipping commodities around the globe and a report on the work done by aircraft charter specialist Chapman Freeborn, and its subsidiary company Intradco Animal Transport, to save the future of the black rhino in Rwanda in the past few years, deserves a mention.

We have reported previously on movements of the rare species but two missions by the company, now part of the Avia Solutions Group, have brought the black rhino back to Rwanda after it effectively disappeared over a decade ago. The Akagera Park in Rwanda was once home to 50 black rhinos in the 1970s. However, wide-spread poaching in the country saw the ultimate extinction of the mammal in the park by 2007.

Original photo as published by Handy Shipping Guide.

The rhino is considered a great symbol of Africa, but the rhino horn trade has threatened its survival. Now, there are said to be only 5,000 black rhinos in the world, and just 1,000 of those are the critically endangered Eastern black rhino. Security has been enhanced at the Akagera Park since 2010 and, now that this has been tightened after securing funding from the Howard Buffett Foundation, the park has been able to start reintroducing the Eastern black rhino.

This is the second species the park has managed to successfully return to its native haunts. In 2015, it also reintroduced lions which hadn’t been seen at the park for 15 years. Some of the security measures the park has put into place to protect its new animals include helicopter air surveillance, canine anti-poaching units and expert rhino protection and tracking teams.

Chapman Freeborn’s original involvement was in 2017 and involved transporting 19 black rhinos from Johannesburg to Kigali, Rwanda. Two Etihad Boeing 777 freighters were chartered to transport the rhinos. After arriving at their destination, they were loaded into trucks and a police escort was provided to ensure they reached the park safely.

Travelling as two groups of 10 and 9 respectively the animals had two attendants and three vets accompanying them throughout the journey and to control their temperature on the flight. The mission to transport the rhinos to the park took two weeks and was an incredibly complex process. The team at Intradco took a year to plan the move alongside Etihad Cargo. They ensured all of the permits were in place and they also accompanied the rhinos on the flights to their final destination.

The success of this first transport led to it being awarded the ‘Best Charter Logistics Project’ at that year’s Freighters World Conference Awards and led to a follow up shipment last year which saw five black rhinos travelling a full 3,700 miles from a zoo in the Czech Republic to the Akagera Park, meaning it now houses 24 rhinos and harbouring the hope that the species will once again be able to thrive in Rwanda.

Without the help of freight services, and projects such as these, it wouldn’t be possible to reintroduce these beautiful animals back where they belong and try and ensure the continuation of an entire species. It highlights just how far animal transportation services have come and a changing attitude to preserving the world we all live in.


Botswana dehorns its wild rhinos to save them from poachers’ slaughter

By Antipoaching, Relocation No Comments
Jane Flanagan, The Times | January 31, 2020

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Once Africa’s safest haven for wildlife, is to dehorn its entire population of wild rhinoceroses in a desperate bid to spare them from slaughter by poachers.

The radical plan has been settled on by wildlife officials who fear that the species will soon be locally extinct for the third time in the country’s history if poaching trends continue. The contentious scheme was made public, apparently in error, in a radio interview by Philda Kereng, the environment minister.

Giving advance notice about dehorning can panic poachers to try to reach the rhinos first, so rangers and vets are now scrambling to track, sedate and dehorn the most vulnerable animals in killing hotspots.

Original photo as published by The Times: At least 30 of Botswana’s dwindling rhino numbers have been slaughtered in the past year — after being relocated to the country to keep them safe from slaughter in South Africa. BARCROFT MEDIA

Map Ives, Botswana’s leading rhino expert, is helping to implement the government’s emergency plan. “I agree with the strategy, but not wholeheartedly,” he told The Times. “The onslaught is severe and we are up against very organised, dangerous professional operatives with all the resources and weapons they need.”

His organisation, Rhino Conservation Botswana, has Prince Harry as its patron, and he himself played a part in re-introducing rhino to the southern African state two decades ago.

Between 2007 and 2017 only six rhinos were killed for their horns but in the past year the government has confirmed that about 30 black and white rhinos have been lost from a population of approximately 300 — and some conservationists claim that the actual death toll is far higher. The country’s critically endangered black rhino population is now thought to be unsustainable.

“For those emotionally involved in this project, the last year has been horrific,” Mr Ives said.

Rhino horns sell for £55,000 a kilogram on the black market in Asia, where they are used as status symbols and in medicinal remedies.

Removing them to save the animals is an expensive and complex undertaking, and is not a permanent solution. The operation is done by chainsaw, leaving a small stump that grows back to a sizeable horn within three or four years, putting the rhinos at risk once more. There are also fears that to make up for lost income poaching gangs might return to targeting elephants.

Those who back the strategy say it will buy the authorities time to improve their intelligence on the poaching syndicates, which have decimated rhino numbers in neighbouring countries. South Africa has lost more than 7,000 rhinos in the past decade.

Ironically, most of those killed in Botswana had been sent there from the Kruger Park for “safekeeping” in the Okavango Delta, a Unesco world heritage site now in danger of losing its reputation as Africa’s “last Eden”.

At the same time as they are dehorned rhinos will be fitted with tracking devices. The project is expected to cost £1,000 per animal.

Being without a horn is no guarantee of safety: poachers often kill the rhino anyway so that they do not have to track it again. Most slaughter has taken place in the Okavango Delta in the northwest of the country. The delta is the hub of Botswana’s luxury tourism industry and rhinos were reintroduced to it in recent years after being poached out of the area.

A stay at the exclusive Mombo Camp on Chief’s Island, where several rhino carcasses have been found, their faces gouged out for their horns, can cost up to £3,000 a night.

Erik Verreynne, a leading wildlife vet, said that Botswana’s rhinos were treated “according to the needs of the tourism industry and not the needs of rhino conservation”. Rather than being left in remote areas close to international borders, like the delta, the rhinos should be relocated to safe, semi-wild sanctuaries “where we can concentrate our defences optimally”.

He added: “They deserve to be protected, and keeping them in high-risk areas for the sake of tourism is against all sound principles. Viewing semi-wild rhino in Botswana is better than viewing no rhino at all.”


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

See link for photo & audio of article.

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.


Five rhinos resettled in Rwanda from Czech zoo

By Conservation, Relocation, Translocation No Comments
Lowvelder | January 5, 2020

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The arrival of the rhinos marks the second translocation to Rwanda after South Africa donated 17 rhinos in 2017, reintroducing the species after it had disappeared for over a decade due to intense poaching.

That initial population has now grown to 20 in the park, which is considered an excellent habitat for the rhinos.

“This unique achievement represents the culmination of an unprecedented international effort to improve the survival prospects of a critically endangered rhino subspecies in the wild,” said Jes Gruner, manager of Akagera National Park.

Original photo as published by The Lowvelder: There are about 5,000 black rhinos remaining across their range in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making them one of the most critically endangered species in the world. (© AFP | TONY KARUMBA)

“Their arrival also marks an important step in Akagera’s ongoing revitalization and one that underscores the country’s commitment to conservation.”

The rhinos began their journey on Sunday after months of preparation at Safari Park Dvůr Králové in the Czech Republic, according to the Rwanda Development Board.

The two male and three female rhinos — needed to widen the gene pool in the park — will live in enclosed spaces with the aim of increasing their adaptability and survival rate.

There are about 5,000 black rhinos remaining across their range in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making them one of the most critically endangered species in the world.

Rwanda also reintroduced lions — from South Africa in 2015 — after they had disappeared from the country for about 15 years.

“Just under a decade of management with improved law enforcement and strong community and economic development initiatives has seen poaching practically eliminated, key species including lion and rhino returned, significant support fostered for conservation, and vibrant tourism leading to Akagera being 80 percent self-financing,” read a statement from African Parks which assisted the translocation.

Rwanda received 1.3 million visitor arrivals in 2017 and tourism is Rwanda’s largest foreign exchange earner, government statistics show.


British troops help move endangered black rhinos to new home away from poachers

By Conservation, Gaming, Illegal trade, Relocation No Comments
James Hockaday, Metro | Dec 26, 2019

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Vulnerable black rhinos have been relocated away from the eyes of hunters with the assistance of British soldiers.

Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles teamed up with conservationists, training rangers at Malawi’s Liwonde National Park to improve their patrols in a bid to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild today because hunters have decimated their numbers.

Their horns are removed and sold on to the Far East, where they are ground down and turned into ‘medicine’, aphrodisiacs, or jewellery. Around the end of their three-month assignment, the Gurkhas helped with one of the largest international rhino re-location to date.

Original photo as published by Metro: Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild as hunters decimate their numbers. (Picture: PA)

Conservation group African Parks say 17 of the 1.4 tonne animals were hauled by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and taken to a new home in Malawi. Major Jez England, officer commanding the British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde said the operation had been ‘hugely successful’.

He added: ‘Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment. ‘Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget.’

So far, the army has helped train 200 rangers in the country and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.

The project was led by African Parks in conjunction with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It aims to boost the rhino population in the region and preserve this critically endangered species for the next generation. Since their release, African Parks is continuing to monitor the animals as they settle in to their new home.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.

He added: ‘With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.

‘Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa.’

The counter-poaching ranger partnering programme is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered by the British Army.

The UK Government has committed over £36 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021. Part of this is to help support transboundary work to allow animals to move more safely between areas and across national borders.

Rhinos are worth more dead than alive, says wildlife vet (South Africa)

By Conservation, News No Comments
The Independent Online | December 7, 2019

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DURBAN: Rhinos are worth more dead than alive. This is the painful reality Ezemvelo wildlife vet Dr Dave Cooper related this week, while delivering the Nolly Zaloumis Memorial Lecture at uShaka Marine World.

And, as expected in an address by an African wildlife buff, there has to be a story of climbing a tree to escape a charging rhino.

Cooper’s story of the need for such a tree involved an orphan, one of more and more that exist because of poaching.

Cooper said that, once treated, they were reintroduced into the wild, sometimes after having become “a little used to humans”.

“The first black rhino (orphan) we released in iSimangaliso had had far too much human contact,” Cooper recalled.

“It was not scared of vehicles, so it was a great tourist animal. But when I approached it on foot, I had to find a tree.”

While the incidence of rhino calves becoming orphaned has increased, the work of relocating rhinos – to stock reserves and to offer them safety – has decreased in the quarter of a century Cooper has been in the game. Now, he’s kept busy much of the time with dehorning, treating survivors of poaching and conducting post-mortems.

All because of poaching.

“It was 100 relocations a year, sometimes,” he recalled. “This year we captured eight and couldn’t sell four of them.”

The problem, he explained, was economics. “Rhinos are worth more dead than alive,” he said, stressing that it was vital that this be reversed.

Farmers with rhino stock can spend up to R5million feeding their herds and the same amount on security.

To reverse the situation, the option of legalising trade in rhino horn “needs to be looked at seriously”, he suggested.

While anyone entering a wildlife career in Africa may have expected to climb trees to escape charging rhinos, they may not have expected metal detectors to be everyday tools of their trade. It is for Cooper, as he attends to rhinos that have been struck by bullets. “I couldn’t have believed that I would ever become an expert in using a metal detector, which is now as important as a dart gun.”

All this takes its toll on lovers of wildlife, like Cooper and his colleagues, who find that their work has a psychological impact on them. “Day in, day out, doing this kind of work, no one is unaffected, so we deliberately take turns – two weeks, two weeks. Then, when there’s a serious number of cases, we all go and help each other.”

Help for the rhinos, in recent years, has also come from other countries in Africa, a significant number of them having become translocation destinations recently, Cooper said.

Last month, 17 black rhinos were taken to Malawi.

There have also been relocations to Tanzania. Then, in Kenya, the overall rhino population was down to 200. Now it’s about 1000 and security has improved through advanced intelligence systems.

To date, 87 white rhino have been moved to Botswana, in an area where the grass is “ice cream to the rhinos”.

Sceptics feared for the safety of 28 black rhinos when they were translocated from iMfolozi to Zimbabwe in 1998. “They were proved wrong over time,” said Cooper.

There are trees there, too, should rangers looking after them need an escape route.

Original photo by Robin Moore

Kaziranga National Park: Report identifies 9 corridors for free movement of animals (State of Assam, India)

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
Tora Agarwala, The Indian Express | November 27, 2019

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A special committee has recommended the delineation (laying down the exact boundaries) of nine animal corridors in Kaziranga National Park (KNP).

Wildlife or animal corridors are meant to ensure safe passage for animals between two isolated habitats. At KNP, famous for the one-horned rhino, animals are known to regularly move (especially during the annual floods) from the park area to the nearby Karbi Anglong hills through these corridors. Once the rains clear, they make their way back to the grasslands.

The recommendations, if enacted, will help put a spanner on construction activities in these sensitive ecological zones, which have been proving an impediment to the free movement of wildlife.

Original photo as published by Indian Express: The report says “Kaziranga is like nature’s gift and a unique combination of floodplains, river, and hills — a mosaic of habitat.” (File/PTI)

The committee — comprising members of the forest department — was constituted after a report by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and a Supreme Court Order of April 12, 2019, which banned mining and related activities along KNP.

The report has been submitted to the state government, a member of the committee confirmed on condition of anonymity.

The report is in public circulation after Bokakhat-based environmental activist Rohit Choudhry filed an RTI query regarding it. It was Choudhry’s application that led to the crucial CEC report and the SC banning mining in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To define the nine corridors, the committee considered human-wildlife conflict data over the past three years, animal mortality rate on the NH-37 highway, camera trap images, and also conducted a number of field visits and interactions with local communities. The corridors are: Panbari, Haldibari, Bagori, Harmoti, Kanchanjuri, Hatidandi, Deosur, Chirang, and Amguri.

“The committee has done its best in keeping the interest of wildlife and views of local administration while making recommendations for these nine corridors” states the report.

“Kaziranga is like nature’s gift and a unique combination of floodplains, river, and hills — a mosaic of habitat. If there is some catastrophe during floods, animals can go to the hills. When there are no floods, they can graze on the grasslands,” says DP Bankhwal, who retired earlier this year as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) (PCCF) and Assam Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW).

However, the National Highway-37 (NH-37), that cuts across the Park, “fragments the once contiguous Kaziranga landscape into two discrete regions” according to the report. “This restricts movement especially during the floods when the NH-37 works as a link /temporary high ground,” says Bankhwal.

The report further goes on to state: “Human habitations and activities, tea plantations, truck parking lots and commercial establishments on either side of the highway are augmenting the fragmentation of the landscape. Despite the fragmentation, animals negotiate the NH-37 to seek refuge at the risk of getting killed in accidents.”

The report also points at commercial land use such as opening of resorts and dhabas, stone quarrying and industrial land use (stone crushers etc) as other important reasons to recommend new boundaries of these animal corridors.

In wildlife parlance, corridors are mainly of two types: functional and structural. While functional corridors are defined in terms of functionality from the perspective of the animal (basically areas where there have been recorded movement of wildlife), structural corridors are contiguous “strips of forested areas and structurally connect the otherwise fragmented blocks of the landscape.” When structural corridors are affected by human anthropogenic activities, functional corridors automatically widen because of animal use.

The nine corridors that already exist behave as functional corridors. According to the new recommendations, the corridors will act as both structural and functional, on the basis of need. The report suggests that structural corridors “should be made free of all human induced disturbances except for the forestry and wildlife management practices.” On the other hand functional corridors (which might become important when structural corridors are disturbed), “can have regulated multi-use with restrictions on land use change.”

“Many corridors pass through government areas as well as private land,” says P Sivakumar, Director, KNP, “That is why an independent committee was formed to make recommendations fairly.”

Bankhwal says that the only way these recommendations can have an impact is if corridors are notified. “A corridor should not be considered as just a passage but function as proper areas with proper resources for protection where animals can stop over and rest for a while,” he says.

Additional PCCF wildlife and CWLW Assam, MK Yadava, said while the report has been received, the matter is sub-judice and he could not comment further on the future action of the government.

Relocated rhinos in great shape, Grumeti official (Tanzania)

By Conservation, News, Relocation No Comments
The Daily News Tanzania | September 30, 2019

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The nine rhinos that were introduced into the Serengeti ecosystem from a game farm in South Africa a fortnight ago are faring well. Grumeti Fund, a non-profit organisation which oversaw the translocation of the rhinos from Thaba Tholo Game Farm in South Africa, has given assurance that the eastern black rhinoceroses are in great shape since their arrival in the ecosystem.

“The rhinos are doing well and their transition into this new environment has been good,” stated Grumeti Fund’s Executive Director, Mr Stephen Cunliffe through an email exchange with this paper yesterday.

Mr Cunliffe further mentioned that the nine critically endangered wild animals, which include seven adults and two young calves, are staying in a rhino enclosure for the next four to six weeks, before being released into the wild.

“Each rhino adapts to their surroundings in a different way and at a different pace. Their release will be facilitated at the most appropriate time, depending on their behavior,” he said. Once they leave their enclosures, the nine rhinos will be free-ranging within the greater Serengeti ecosystem.

Original photo as published by: Dailynews Tanzania

It is expected that the two other rhinos currently residing within a 276 hectare Rhino Intensive Protection Zone will also be released as free-ranging in the near future.

One of the rhinos is a 1,157 kilogram bull named Eric who was translocated from San Diego Zoo Safari Park to Grumeti in September 2018. “The expectation is that all of the rhinos will settle into the area forming a healthy breeding nucleus,” added Mr Cunliffe.

Security of the rhino is critical and the Grumeti Fund has maintained that it’s strong and a multi-dimensional anti-poaching strategy will give the nine rhinos the best chance to survive and thrive. The Fund’s assurance comes only a few days after the world marked the World Rhino Day, a global event established to celebrate the world’s five rhinoceros species, and to reflect on the challenges facing them. Of the five rhino species living in Africa and Asia, three are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as critically endangered. They include Javan Rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus), Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis).

Meanwhile, white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) are considered near threatened while the greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) are vulnerable to extinction. The Grumeti Fund is a non-profit organization carrying out wildlife conservation and community development work in the western corridor of the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania.