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Serengeti Archives - Rhino Review

Finance millionaire aims to track ‘extinct’ rhino in war-torn Africa (UK)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Fundraising No Comments
Alex Scapens, Cheshire Live | March 10, 2020

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A millionaire is swapping a luxury lifestyle for war-torn Africa to track down a rhino species on the verge of extinction.

Paul Naden, 50, from Macclesfield, made his money in the financial industry and for the last decade has helped endangered species charity Saving the Survivors. This week he will embark on an ambitious expedition – travelling to South Sudan to try and find the northern white rhino.

The species was declared ‘functionally extinct’ in 2018 but it is hoped the region harbours a previously unknown population. If this is the case it will need finding, monitoring and protecting.

Original photo as published by Cheshire Live: Paul Nadin will travel through the wilds of South Sudan to look for endangered rhinos.

Paul explained: “In 2018 the last male northern was declared functionally extinct. The world was left with only two old females, unable to reproduce but there is possibly a second chance to save this species. “Rumours and whisperings from South Sudan of sightings of the animal in the wild and reports of rhino tracks have re-ignited the hope for the future of the northern white rhino.

“There has been no survey or study of South Sudan’s wildlife in over a decade and no comprehensive search has ever taken place until now.

“This is one final and comprehensive search for any remaining northern white rhino in the wild. I am incredibly excited to be involved and if we succeed, it gives us fresh hope of saving it.”

Paul, who joined Macclesfield-based HFS Loans in 1989 and was managing director 10 years later, is part-funding the expedition. He will be followed by BBC camera crews who are making a one-hour documentary entitled The Last Unicorn. His team will also include a vet and security expert as the region has seen conflict and civil war for the past 20 years.

Doug Hope, a BBC executive producer, said: “It is a long shot, there is no denying that, but there are rumours of them out there, and in a place that is so remote, so unexplored.

“Yet, from what our sources are telling us, it remains prime rhino habitat, so surely there is still a chance.

“Until this search is carried out we can’t close the book on the northern white rhino.”

Previously Paul has been on a trek across the Serengeti to raise money for an anti-poaching campaign.

 

All Singita Grumeti’s received black rhino cope with ecosystem (Tanzania)

By Conservation, Relocation No Comments
Edward Qorro, The Daily News | December 12, 2019

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The once critically endangered Rhinos relocated from a South African game farm to Singita Grumeti ecosystem in September, this year are now freely roaming in their new habitat.

The black rhinos, which include females Eastern Black Rhino and young bulls, according to a recent update by the Grumeti Fund’s Communications Department are said to have been fitted with transmitters, which would enable wildlife experts and vets from the Grumeti Fund (GF) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, to track and record their locations in groups or individually on a daily basis.

“Using Vulcan’s Earth Ranger, a data visualisation and analysis software for protected area management, the location of the rhino is captured daily and logged into this system, it allows the teams to coordinate the best possible security and monitor the animals,” said Wesley Gold, the Grumeti Fund’s Anti-Poaching Manager.

Original photo as published by Daily News.

“All the rhino received the state-of-the-art transmitters which feed into the system in real time. This very new technology gives management the ability to have eyes on them at all times,” further said Mr Gold. The newly released Rhinos are now occupying a similar range as the first three, and for the first time will make their territories within the Singita Grumeti concession.

The established breeding nucleus will ideally start to drive the growth of the local population and genetic diversification, as the Rhino would start to move between territories and breed with other satellite populations in the Serengeti–Mara ecosystem.

The GF in its further update indicate that the ecological undertaking require years of planning, and a multitude of partnerships, high costs, lots of infrastructure, security and technology developments to make it a reality.

According to the GF, a much needed boundary road was constructed last year and is now being hedged with a rhino fence, which extends across a critical portion of the boundary to also keep off people from coming into contact with the animals, a move seen as likely to reduce human wildlife conflict in the ecosystem.

Expounding, he said that several monitoring teams have been deployed to check on the Rhinos daily, adding that the imminent arrival of an airplane will further boost the rhinos’ protection strategy.

“Working with rhino is complicated and there are lots of moving parts. With the recent rhino release, two critical elements of this project stand out: Security and partnerships. “We are extremely fortunate to have great support from Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) and our other government partners, championed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, as well as an experienced and multi-faceted law enforcement department that combines critical boots on the ground knowledge with state-of-the- art conservation technologies, which are crucial to effectively monitor and protect rhino,” said Mr Stephen Cunliffe, GF’s Executive Director.

According to Mr Cunliffe this law enforcement component includes an intelligence unit, a special operations group, a canine unit, mobile patrol, rhino monitoring teams, observation posts, scouts stationed in the bush, and an aerial support team to name a few.

There are three species of black rhino in Africa: eastern black rhino, southern black rhino and desert black rhino.

What I learned in the trenches of a rhino translocation (Tanzania)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, News, Translocation No Comments
Alex Postman, Conde Nast Traveler | October 11, 2019

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“Hi, sweetheart,” coos Jennifer Conaghan, a rhino behavioral specialist from Australia, as she climbs a ladder to a catwalk over a wood-and-metal enclosure, or boma. Inside stand nine eastern black rhinoceroses, still ornery as they come off their tranquilizers following a 36-hour journey from South Africa to this shady slope by Tanzania’s Grumeti River. I tiptoe up the ladder behind Conaghan—one of the few women in this traditionally macho line of work—and crouch beside her.

Sharing a pen below us are Helaria, a rhino cow, and her 15-month-old calf, Otto. The calf makes a kazoo-like honk as Helaria lowers her head to check us out, stomping the ground with her muscular hind leg and shaking off a fly from her ear. The pair have grown more relaxed, observes Conaghan. It’s a marked change from the day before, when a restless bull named Eddie charged through the wall of the boma, introducing himself as just the second rhino now wandering free in the Ikorongo-Grumeti Game Reserve complex, a 350,000-acre buffer zone along the northern edge of Serengeti National Park.

Fifty years ago, Tanzania was home to more than 10,000 rhinos. But when poaching of the animal for its horn—prized in some cultures, predominantly Asian, for its medicinal value—escalated in the ’70s and ‘80s, rhinos from around the country were flown out, or “translocated,” to international zoos and safe havens. One of these was the private breeding farm of Thaba Tholo in South Africa, where these nine rhinos originated. Today the population of Tanzanian eastern blacks—smaller than their cousins, the more populous white rhino—has plummeted by 99 percent. Only 100 of the critically endangered animals are left in the country.

Rhino poaching remains a serious threat today; however, there’s been growing investment in conservation and in restoring ecosystems, as governments realize that a “wildlife economy” brings revenue and social benefits through tourism, infrastructure, and job creation. These efforts often include re-establishing animal populations in protected areas where they once roamed. But governments can’t undertake these large-scale projects alone, and so turn to partnerships with private organizations like the Grumeti Fund.

Original photo as published by Conde Nast Traveler: Only 100 eastern black rhinos are left in Tanzania. Courtesy Alex Postman

Founded by American billionaire Paul Tudor Jones with an annual operating budget of $4 to $5 million, the Grumeti Fund secured a 30-year lease from the Tanzanian government in 2002 on this former hunting concession with a vision of rewilding it under a management agreement with the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA).

The partners have seen great successes, with a fourfold increase in the elephant population, tenfold increase in buffalos, and one of the highest lion densities ever surveyed on the continent—all of which can be seen on game drives on one of the reserve’s five lodgings, run by luxury eco-safari brand Singita. But rhinos—foliage-eating “browsers” who help balance the ecosystem—have been the missing link, says Steven Cunliffe, Grumeti Fund’s executive director. During the hour-plus drive over a russet-dirt road from the NGO’s headquarters to Bangwesi Camp, where I’d be overnighting with the translocation team, he explained the Fund’s aim of establishing a breeding herd of 20 to 30 animals to repopulate the area: “They belong here.”

But it hasn’t been easy, requiring years of negotiation and cooperation with government ministers down to local commissioners, preparing an ideal habitat, and heightening security. Although two rhinos brought from zoos in 2007 and 2018 are happily roaming a nearby protected zone, last July, a male rhino flown in from a U.K. safari park died in transit. “Rhino deaths are the terrifying reality of translocation,” Cunliffe said. “The losses are the price you pay for being at the sharp end of conservation… . It is not for the faint of heart.”

Rhino—Incoming!

I arrived at Bangwesi on a warm Thursday in early September, two days after the rhinos. During the animals’ 30-day government-mandated confinement, vigil is kept by a rotating Grumeti Fund cast including Cunliffe, conservation manager Matt Perry, and special projects head Grant Burden. There’s also a team of highly experienced specialists including Conaghan, the rhino whisperer, who took a leave from her job at a zoo park in New South Wales to join the project, and a trio of South African translocation experts. Kester Vickery, whose outfit Conservation Solutions is the go-to for animal transfers, and wildlife veterinarians Andre Uys and Dave Cooper, are all legends in the field, having caught and moved thousands of animals between them. The four of us sat down on the deck overlooking the lush riverine valley and the tall, slatted walls of the boma to discuss how the previous 48 hours went down. Occasionally a rhino snort or hoot broke the silence, punctuated by the thundering hoofs of wildebeest and zebra heading south on their migration route.

Vickery and his team had spent weeks at Thaba Tholo in South Africa, carefully selecting from among dozens of rhinos the 10 they would take, based on certain criteria: age (neither too young nor too old); gender (five males, including two one-year-old calves, and five females, one pregnant); physical vigor; and genetics. This was to be a homecoming of sorts: All are descendants of the very eastern black rhino that were removed from this area in the 1970s. The rhinos were darted, DNA tested for genetic purity, and moved with the help of a crane to holding pens to await the go-ahead.

On Monday morning, the team loaded the rhinos into 10.5×6.5×4.5 custom-made steel crates and conveyed them by truck into the cargo hold of a 747 chartered for the 4.5-hour flight to Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro airport, where government officials and media were awaiting their arrival. In flight, Cooper and Uys calibrated the tranquilizers and closely monitored the animals in their crates, then checked on the rhinos during scheduled stops on the trucks.

Even with such vigilance, it was discovered during the first leg of the trip that a male rhino had “got himself into a pickle in the crate,” as Uys put it, and died, likely due to stress. (An autopsy showed enlarged adrenal glands.) Such a loss is upsetting, of course, but it’s a factor in working with wild animals who can only be medically evaluated when tranquilized. “If you can’t think of anything you could have done better, as in this case, you’ve done everything you can,” Cooper said.

The nine remaining animals were then loaded in two shifts onto a C13 military plane to fly an hour to Grumeti’s narrow dirt airstrip. Delays at every stage are common—awaiting paperwork, loading and changing planes, while making stops on the road to check on the animals. “Time is our enemy because the longer you have an animal in the box, the bigger the risk,” said Vickery, a celebrity in the conservation world, having worked with Prince Harry on a translocation in Malawi, among other high-profile projects.

Once released into the boma, the rhinos are guarded 24/7 by a security team overseen by the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority. Conaghan visits several times a day, sing-songing her arrival to the acoustically sensitive rhinos so they don’t mistake her for a sneaky predator. She supervises their daily feedings on alfalfa, apples, nutrition-rich pellets, branches of local vegetation, and sausage tree fruit—the rhino equivalent of “chocolate treats.”

The time spent at camp is mostly a waiting game to ensure the rhinos are healthy and safe. Eddie, the rhino who busted out of the boma the previous morning, had been mock-charging the wall; the team agreed his self-liberation was probably for the best, given his high level of confinement-induced stress. “Our days are hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer panic,” Uys noted with a laugh.

That afternoon, I went for a walk in the bush with the three South Africans and Nick Bester, a conservation manager from Grumeti Fund, who carried a shotgun on his shoulder. Following them through the riverbed in the late afternoon sun, I felt the full force of my city-girl ignorance as they pointed out African green pigeons and Lappet-faced vultures and chubby lion prints in the sand. Their jocular banter about past translocations—last year Uys flew an unprecedented 68 hours from San Diego to the Serengeti with a rhino named Eric; the time they moved 40 elephants in one day—betrayed the harsh realities of their work putting their lives on the line. Cooper described breaking his wrist punching a rhino (“It got to me before I could get up a tree”) and how he watched as a crated rhino unexpectedly jerked his head, impaling a coworker. Their bodies bear plenty of scars, some of them invisible: All described colleagues who suffer from PTSD as a result of their work, which can involve carrying out autopsies on multiple poached animal carcasses. As the sun sagged over the riverbank, we’d grown casual in our chatter when Vickery suddenly put up his hand, motioning for us to freeze. Bester cocked his gun. Inside a copse of trees, a buffalo, the testiest and most unpredictable animal in the bush, rustled a branch. We back-tracked silently.

The next 28 days will pass something like this, boredom interrupted by panic. At some point the vets will immobilize each of the rhino again to place electronic trackers into their horns and put them on the security grid—even Eddie, when he’s found. Then one day in early October, in the quiet of the afternoon, the three gates of the boma will lift and the rhinos will step out into the freedom of the Serengeti ecosystem.

Worth their Weight?

But the rhinos aren’t exactly out of the woods. If these nine creatures can survive and thrive, it will be thanks to years of groundwork laid out by the Grumeti Fund and their Tanzanian partners.

For one, there’s the matter of conserving their new home. The Ikorongo-Grumeti Game Reserve—with its dense vegetation and abundant water—is a rhino paradise, but keeping it that way requires the kind of effective management strategy that Matt Perry oversees here: stopping illegal livestock grazing, removing invasive plant species, building roads to access remote areas of the concession, and managing controlled burns of the grasslands to regenerate nutritious food.

For another, fending off a poaching free-for-all demands iron-clad security and law enforcement. That morning, I’d toured the Joint Operations Center, or JOC, with Alina Peter, its 29-year-old Tanzanian antipoaching ops coordinator. Outside, 20-foot towers of wire snares signal that poaching remains a menace. Within a series of small rooms pulsating with video monitors, Peter walked me through an FBI-caliber high-tech surveillance system called EarthRanger (created and funded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company Vulcan Inc.), which tracks frontline information from game scouts and mobile patrol units, as well as paramilitary-style special ops. I watched the canine anti-poaching unit of three rescue pups—two Belgian Malanois and one Chocolate Lab mix—pounce excitedly on a rhino horn hidden in an obstacle course. (The dogs are also trained to detect contraband like ivory, bush meat, and pangolin scales.) And I sat with Grumeti’s head of joint intelligence, who works closely with local law enforcement to interview poachers when they’re arrested, as he showed me his computer screen latticed with networks of poaching syndicates in a matrix worthy of Homeland.

With all that effort and risk and money, against a backdrop of an exploding African population and shrinking wild spaces, you can’t help but ask yourself whether it’s all worth it.

That night, after a dinner of barbecued beef and vegetables, the team sat around a roaring fire pit, sipping beers. Conversation turned to the question of whether the poaching crisis could be curbed by legalizing the selling of rhino horn—currently banned under international treaty. This would allow African governments to sell their considerable stockpiles of confiscated horn and flood the market, thereby lowering the price and, ideally, demand for a product that would lose its aura of exoticism. But if consumer demand were to rise, Cunliffe argues, it would become a gruesome experiment, effectively condemning the rhino to extinction in the wild.

“What we’re doing now isn’t working,” Kester says. “Even with all the educating and protecting, rhino poaching hasn’t stopped; it’s still plus-or-minus 1,000 a year, or 9,000 to 10,000 lost in the last decade. We’re fast losing our heritage.”

True, the poaching numbers tell a stark story. And yet the nine rhinos are tiny if crucial figures in a much broader picture that includes not just the ecological value of a restored and healthy ecosystem, from clean water to climate-change mitigation—though these are no small things. But crucially, they also bring tangible benefits to the 21 communities—roughly 85,000 people—surrounding the concession. Because for conservation to succeed, value must be created for those who live in closest proximity to the wildlife, not just the affluent visitors who come to see it from their kitted-out Land Rovers. With incentives to protect, these local guardians may be the rhinos’ salvation.

To that end, Grumeti’s community outreach arm works on a key aspect of the whole equation: education and jobs. This starts with a primary school wildlife program that will soon occupy a shiny new education center—for many kids, it’s not just their first taste of ownership of their national heritage, it’s their first time in the park. English immersion camps and girls’ empowerment workshops give youth vital skills, while a scholarship program that runs from secondary school to vocational training and university creates a pool of local talent for meaningful, well-paying jobs. And a rural enterprise program in local villages teaches small business skills, from marketing to finance, and incubates the most promising projects.

The same belief in long-term force multipliers—a new business venture that earns a villager enough to bring his family out of poverty; a poacher who comes to understand that wild animals are worth more alive than dead and pivots to become a conservation manager—is what makes these incremental gains on the ground worth pursuing. They just require faith and patience.

“We moved nine rhinos,” Vickery says, finally. “It may seem insignificant to some people, but each of these animals is critical. In years to come, those nine could be a hundred. That’s what makes this all worth it.”

How to See the Rhinos

Rhino are elusive and solitary. But for a chance to glimpse the rhinos in a vast, semi-private landscape that’s ground zero for the Great Migration, and to experience a canine anti-poaching unit demonstration at Grumeti Fund HQ, stay at one of Singita Grumeti’s five lodgings. Pick from Sasakwa, the Edwardian-style manor house; Faru-Faru, a modern, low-key lodge; Sabora Tented Camp, modeled on a 1920’s-style explorer’s camp; and Explore, a private-use tented camp with just enough luxury touches. Serengeti House is a private home that can be rented for exclusive use.

Relocated rhinos in great shape, Grumeti official (Tanzania)

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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.

Nine SA black rhinoceros arrive to bolster Serengeti’s rhino population

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Edward Qorro, The Daily News | September 11, 2019

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ARUSHA: Arrival of nine black rhinoceros from South Africa yesterday is expected to herald the translocation of another group of five extant species into the Ikorongo-Grumeti Game Reserve (IGGR). The Grumeti Fund (GF), a non-profit organisation which oversaw the translocation of the rhinos from Thaba Tholo Game Farm in South Africa, assured the Tanzanian government that it was now working on modalities and logistics of bringing in more animals into the Serengeti ecosystem, effective next year.

In an interview with ‘Daily News’ at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) yesterday, GF Executive Director Stephen Cunliffe said the organisation intends to translocate more rhinos into the country to bolster the Serengeti’s rhino population.

“This is part of our mission that seeks to contribute to the conservation of Serengeti ecosystem, its natural landscape and its wildlife,” explained Mr Cunliffe.

Original photo as published by Daily News.

The nine rhinos—four bulls and five cows—arrived in the country aboard Senator International, a Boeing 747 long haul cargo aircraft that left South Africa on Monday midnight and touched down at KIA at 3.45am, yesterday.

Having endured the early morning flight, the sedated black rhinoceroses were later put onto Lockheed C-130 Hercules, an American four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft owned by the Ugandan government for their maiden flight to the Serengeti ecosystem, an ecological undertaking which cost the fund 250 million US dollars (over 570bn/-).

“It will take between four to eight weeks before they are released into the wild, depending on how fast they acclimatise to their new surroundings,” he said.

According to Mr Cunliffe, the nine rhinos which include seven adults whose ages range between five and seven years and two young bulls are believed to have originated from East Africa. Though he admitted that translocating such wild animals was a complicated affair, Mr Cunliffe assured that the organisation will continue partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and its agencies like Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority, Tanzania National Parks and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute.

This is not the first time the fund has successfully translocated wild animals from one ecosystem to another. Last year, the GF successfully introduced Eric–a 1,157-kilogramme eastern black rhino bull from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in the USA – into the 350,000 – acre private concession.

Through the rhino project, the GF has spent 7.3 million dollars (about 17bn/-) in bolstering the population of the endangered species within the Serengeti Ecosystem. Acknowledging the receipt of the nine rhinos, Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Constantine Kanyasu said the country will no longer relent in her quest to protect its natural resources. “We will not delve into our past mistakes, alternatively we will secure all protected areas and step up more efforts of protecting our wild animals,” he said.

The deputy minister attributed the sheer number of rhinos to the heightened security that has since been deployed in national parks. The natural resources ministry has rolled out a four-year strategic plan (2019-20 23) which seeks to boost the rhino population in Tanzania.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Professor Adolf Mkenda dared those continuing to possess animal trophies to immediately surrender them to the government. He challenged those in possession of the trophies for ritual purposes to apply for special permissions of doing so from the government.