Southern white rhinos Archives - Rhino Review

Rhino population rebounding after anti-poaching crackdown (Kenya)

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Charles Wanyoro, The Daily Nation | March 11, 2020

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Conservationists and wildlife health experts at the Lewa Conservancy in Meru have expressed optimism that rhinos in the region will soon be removed from the red endangered species list following gradual increase.

The sanctuary for endangered wildlife species recorded 23 births in the last two years, marking a 9.5 per cent increase in black rhinos, and 10.5 per cent rise in the southern white rhino population.

Original photo as published by Daily Nation: Personnel from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy ear notch a southern white rhino on March 10, 2020 for easy identification and monitoring. PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The conservancy is now home to 109 black and 97 white rhinos which is about 14 per cent of Kenya’s total rhino population.

Speaking at the conservancy Tuesday, Dr Martin Mutinda, a veterinary officer with the Kenya Wildlife Service said the birth rate is good news.

Kenya put in place an ambitious plan to raise the dwindling population of rhinos in the country, targeting a five per cent growth rate every year.

“In the rhino management strategy, we aim for a five per cent annual growth rate and in Lewa, between 2017 and 2019, black rhinos growth rate stood at 9.5 while white rhinos had 10.5 per cent increase.

“We are way above the national five per cent strategy. We are dedicated towards moving the rhino away from the red endangered list,” said Dr Mutinda. The conservancy has made huge strides in containing poaching, with only one poaching incident recorded since November 2013.

Lewa introduced the ear notching to help conservationists identify individual rhino from another and track the animals and detect potential danger. Through the technology, the rhinos are monitored round the clock by rangers who have GPS enabled radio call and report on their locations in real time.

Last year, the conservancy for the second time made it to the prestigious IUCN Green List of protected areas, one of only three Kenyan organisations.

San Diego Zoo researchers retrieve rhino’s eggs to recover critically endangered species

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Karla Rendon-Alvarez, NBC San Diego | March 11, 2020

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Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park collected a female southern white rhinoceros’ eggs as a step to genetically recover the northern white rhino.

Original photo as published by NBC San Diego.

On March 6, a team of more than 30 veterinarians, wildlife care specialists and researchers from the San Diego Zoo Global and Embryo Plus South Africa teamed up to perform an ovum pick-up on 9-year-old rhino, Nikita. The non-surgical procedure gathers a live animal’s eggs and is modeled after a similar method used on horses and cows.

Nikita the rhino was under anesthesia during the procedure as researchers located her ovaries by ultrasound. The animal’s eggs were then retrieved by a tiny needle that was inserted into each follicle. Those eggs are expected to mature in vitro and fertilize by intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

Can science save the last two white rhinos left on the planet? (Kenya)

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Zeenat Hansrod & Sébastien Nemeth, RFI | March 4, 2020

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Northern white rhinos no longer exist in the wild. The last two remaining female individuals are under constant surveillance in Kenya while scientists are working on groundbreaking techniques to save the species from complete extinction.

Najin and her daughter Fatu are under intense surveillance in their 700-acre (about 280-hectare) enclosure at the Ol Pejeta conservancy near the town of Nanyuki, on the equator in central Kenya. Their head caregiver, Zacharia Mutai, says his team considers them as family members.

“We know them very well and must ensure that they are healthy and well looked after.

“Having the last two is something very serious. We are trying all our best to protect and preserve them. We don’t want to face extinction any more.”

Mutai was the caregiver of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, which died in 2018.

The two remaining females, 31-year-old Najin and 20-year-old Fatu, are clinically infertile and cannot carry a pregnancy. Furthermore, Najin has a large tumour on her right ovary and Fatin has a damaged uterus.

Original photo as published by RFI: Najin (L) and Fatu (R) are the last two northen white rhinos in the world. The two female rhinos at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya. (Ami Vitale/BioRescue)

Groundbreaking Techniques

In order to save the species from extinction, scientists are working on artificial reproduction techniques which have never been attempted with rhinoceros before.

The efforts are pioneered by the BioRescue project at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany. The team of international scientists are using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and stem cell technology for reproduction purposes.

“We have collected a lot of semen from four different northern white rhino bulls over the last 20 years,” says Professor Thomas Hildebrandt who heads the BioRescue project.

“This frozen semen allows us to do in vitro fertilisation and we hope to combine that approach together with groundbreaking stem cell technology.”

Hildebrandt, a veterinarian specialised in the reproduction of wild animals, hopes that the combined technology will help produce a viable population that could be released into the wild within 15 to 20 years.

Last year, in a unique procedure at the Ol Pejeta conservancy, his team managed to collect the eggs from Fatu and Najin, but only three embryos from Fatu’s eggs have managed to survive.

“Our goal is to produce the first offspring of the northern white rhino with IVF technique as soon as possible so that this baby can learn how to be a northern white rhino from Najin and Fatu.

“So, our timeline for that is about three years from now,” he added.

The embryos are ready for transfer into surrogate southern white rhinos mothers. Hildebrandt hopes that it will happen before the end of 2020. It will then be followed by a gestation period of 16 months.

Meanwhile in Kenya, Stephen Ngulu, the wildlife vet at the Ol Pejeta conservancy, told RFI that Najin and Fatu are scrupulously monitored.

“I have to observe their walking, their skin, check the eyes, teeth, feet or any wounds. I collect blood and we will test for various parasites, bacterial and viral diseases.”

Stem Cell Technology to Save Endangered Species

“The stem cell approach is needed because we need a gene pool large enough to create a solid, viable population of northern white rhinoceros,” said Hildebrandt, who has spent the last 20 years working with the northern white rhinos.

The technique, inspired by the work of the 2012 Nobel Prize-winning stem cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka, has only been performed on lab mice, but “nobody has been capable, so far, to do that with two-ton species like the rhino.”

The scientists are using stem cell technology to create eggs and sperm from deceased northern white rhinos.

“We have not only harvested sperms from the four different northern white rhino bulls but we also collected skin samples from 12 unrelated individuals.

“We have the best scientists on board and we hope to make significant progress in this field in the next three to five years,” Hildebrandt told RFI.

“It is very ambitious, but without dreams you can’t change the world.”

24/7 Armed Surveillance

The northern white rhino is endemic to swamp areas extending over Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Chad.

Extensive poaching and civil war led to their near extinction. Najin and Fatu were born in captivity and brought to Kenya in 2009 from the Dvur Kralove Safari Park in the Czech Republic.

The world’s two remaining northern white rhinos live under the constant surveillance of 42 armed guards from the National Police Reservists.

“We have a system where we can track the walkie talkies of the patrols. We have night vision, we have thermal images,” explains Emilio Gichuki at the Ol Pejeta conservancy.

He added that poaching is still an acute problem which they are trying to resolve by involving the neighbouring communities.


No rhinos in Botswana if poaching continues: Official

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China.Org | January 25, 2020

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GABORONE: Botswana has expressed fear that there will be no rhinos in the southern African country in a year or two if poaching continues unabated, a wildlife official cautioned on Friday.

Mmadi Rueben, a rhino coordinator at the department of wildlife and national parks in the ministry of environment, natural resources conversation and tourism, raised the caution on the sidelines of an anti-poaching awareness seminar in Francistown, Botswana’s second largest city.

According to Reuben, Botswana has been losing about a rhino a month to poaching in a development that has got the potential of seriously hurting Botswana’s tourism sector boosted by its magnificent flora and fauna.

“If the poaching continues at this (alarming) rate, there will be no rhinos in Botswana in a year or two, especially the black rhino,” said Rueben in an interview with Xinhua.

At least two rhinos were poached within five days in the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage listed as one of the seven natural wonders of Africa, situated in the northwestern parts of the diamond rich nation of Botswana.

While southern white rhinos have been rescued from extinction, Rueben said black rhinos are still considered critically endangered with only around 4, 200 living in the world.

Less than 20 are found in Botswana, which is also home to the African continent’s largest elephant population, he said.

Meanwhile, Rueben said the anti-poaching forces have now placed the protection of rhinos and location of these poaching syndicates as their priority.


Inbreeding among white rhino is the enemy within (South Africa)

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Tanya Farber, Times Live | January 17, 2020

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Poachers have killed almost 1,800 SA rhino in the past two years, but a first-of-its-kind study has uncovered a threat to the species that is just as deadly yet far more subtle.

German scientists say inbreeding is playing a major part in propelling the southern white rhino towards extinction as fenced reserves have reduced the range over which they roam.

Over 13 years, a team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research collected genetic material from 104 offspring, 37 mothers and 13 males on a game farm near Thabazimbi in Limpopo.

They uncovered three problems that have severely reduced the gene pool:

• Many females stick to the same partner over several consecutive breeding periods, so all their offspring inherit the same genes.

• Rhinos do not avoid reproducing with family members and do not have the same innate inbreeding avoidance of many other species. “Females tended to mate more frequently with closely related males, and one daughter produced a child with her father,” said lead researcher Petra Kretzschmar.

• The reproductive success of males is very unequal, so a few males dominate the gene pool.

All of this was not problematic in the past, but now that all rhino live in fenced reserves, they cannot disperse far enough to avoid inbreeding.

This is the largest scientific study to date on the sexual preferences of white rhino and was published in the journal Evolutionary Applications. “During the colonial period, intense hunting decimated white rhinos to a few individuals. All currently living white rhinos originate from this small founder population,” say the researchers, so the gene pool was already severely compromised.

According to The Boucher Legacy, a rhino protection organisation started by new Proteas coach Mark Boucher, “in the early 1900s there were fewer than 50 white rhinos left in the wild. Today, however, the population numbers are up to about 18,000, but the poaching crisis caused the white rhino population to decline by 15% between 2012 and 2017.”

Now that inbreeding has been confirmed, it is not only poaching that will need to be tackled.

“We need to keep the white rhinos as genetically diverse as possible, if we want to give them a chance to adapt to anthropogenic challenges such as poaching, climate change or diseases,” said Kretzschmar. She and the team did not expect females to keep mating with the same male for several reproductive cycles because long-term bonds with mating partners were previously unknown for rhinos.

“They live on their own and only get together shortly before mating,” said Kretzschmar. “This is why it took us 13 years of field research to uncover the secrets of their mating behaviour.”

In the past, they would range far and wide – away from biological family members. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this behaviour is part of their complex social structures.

Groups of sometimes 14 rhinos may form, notably females with calves. Adult males defend territories of roughly 2.5km², which they mark with vigorously scraped dung piles,” said the WWF.

“The home range for adult females can be more than seven times larger, depending on habitat quality and population density. Males competing for a female may engage in serious conflict, using their horns and massive size to inflict wounds.”

But this complex social structure has been affected by changes in land use. “Today, all remaining rhinos live in modestly sized conservation areas and private game reserves surrounded by fences or human settlements. They cannot disperse far enough,” said Alexandre Courtiol, a senior author of the new study.

So where to from here?

The researchers said SA national parks had been less successful in mitigating the effect of poaching than private game reserves and that the reserves could become “the last refuges for the species”.

They hold a third of the worldwide rhino population and have higher budgets than state-owned conservation areas. According to the researchers, however, “game farmers often pay little attention to genetic diversity”. They “remove or introduce new rhinoceros into their population according to the size of the horns or the origins of the new animals”, without taking the genetic makeup of an individual into account.

The researchers, therefore, recommend permanent monitoring of offspring and their genetic relatedness to rhinos nearby and a regular exchange of unrelated animals between protected areas.

“This is the only way to preserve the long-term genetic heritage of the species,” said Kretzschmar.


Black rhino population shows steady growth (Kenya)

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Nathan Williams, Fauna & Flora International, for Phys.Org | January 17, 2020

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Good news stories can be hard to come by in an era of extinction, but the steady improvement in the fortunes of the black rhino is one of those stories.

For the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, 2019 was a particularly positive year. The 17 black rhinos born at the home of East Africa’s largest grouping of black rhinos marked a record for the conservancy, a significant conservation success for this critically endangered species.

Ol Pejeta now has a population of 132 black rhinos (as of mid December 2019) as well as a growing population of southern white rhinos, currently standing at 35 individuals, in addition to the remaining two female northern white rhinos.

Original photo as published by Phys.org. (Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI)

“The high annual population growth of black rhinos achieved at Ol Pejeta over the past 15 years in particular is essential to buffer against the periodic losses of rhinos to poaching,” says Rob Brett, Senior Technical Specialist for Africa at Fauna & Flora International (FFI). “The black rhino is still critically endangered and its numbers are a long way from where they were even 50 years ago. When we see these sorts of numbers produced in one year, however, it gives us hope that we can keep improving its fortunes and help Kenya restore its black rhino population to the goal of at least 2,000 animals.”

No black rhinos were poached at Ol Pejeta last year. The success of the black rhino programme at the 270-square-kilometre sanctuary is a standout example of long-term conservation planning combined with collaboration and a community-focused approach.

Back From the Brink

By the mid 1990s the black rhino was on the brink of extinction and there was a desperate need for more dedicated conservation efforts. The population declined by 95% from 1960, plummeting from more than 65,000 individuals to fewer than 2,500 animals in 1995 as poaching for rhino horn and land clearance decimated the species. Kenya alone held around 18,000 individuals in 1970, a number which fell to fewer than 400 by 1990. From that historic low, numbers globally have increased to around 5,500 thanks to ongoing high growth rates from continentally important black rhino populations such as the one at Ol Pejeta, based on effective protection, good monitoring and biological management for growth.

Ol Pejeta is one of East Africa’s flagship private conservancies and has close links with the 39 conservancies that make up the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) consortium, which was set up in 2004 to develop resilient community conservancies that transform people’s lives, keep the peace and use natural resources sustainably. As one of the founder members, FFI has been involved with NRT since its inception, helping to support a range of activities that benefit both people and wildlife.

There are a number of black rhino subspecies, including the south-central and south-western black rhino. The eastern black rhino—the subspecies at Ol Pejeta—is the most endangered of the surviving black rhino subspecies, with around 1,000 individuals remaining. Poaching has already driven a number of black rhino subspecies—including the once widely distributed western black rhino—to extinction.

Despite the steady growth in black rhino numbers in recent years, FFI and its partners are not complacent and continue to act with the utmost vigilance. Demand for rhino horn remains high, habitat degradation and land use change is a threat and climate change looms large. On top of these threats, it is extremely costly to provide round-the-clock protection for a growing population of one of the world’s most coveted animals.


World’s oldest rhino remains for preservation (Tanzania)

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The Daily News | December 30, 2019

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As wildlife conservationists gather to bear with the death of ‘Fausta,’ the world’s oldest female black rhino of a natural cause on Friday, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) mulls over preserving its remains for remembrance and historical purposes. That was revealed by the authority’s Principal Conservation Officer, Ms Joyce Mgaya in a telephone interview with ‘Daily News’ yesterday, adding that preserving its remains symbolised a fact that conservation campaign was not lost.

“NCAA is mulling over plans to ‘preserve’ the iconic black rhino that was first sighted in the Ngorongoro crater in 1965, while aged three years for remembrance and historical purposes,” said the NCAA officer.

The solitary female rhino died at 57 inside her sanctuary having roamed the crater freely for more than 54 years. Fausta’s health was said to have started deteriorating in 2016 after surviving several hyenas’ attacks, which left it with some wounds, though treated and put in confinement eating mostly lucerne – a perennial flowering plant in the legume fabaceae family.

Her death comes hardly a week after the NCAA marked its 60th anniversary last week with conservation efforts of such endangered animals being its priority.

In the arrangement, NCAA kept in an enclosure inside the crater to keep it safe from marauding hyena attacks. Expounding, NCAA Conservation Commissioner, Dr Fredy Manongi noted that records show that no other rhino had ever lived long as Fausta.

“Records show that Fausta lived longer than any rhino in the world and survived in the Ngorongoro, free-ranging, for more than 54 years. The second oldest rhino in the world was Sana, also a female but white one and died at 55 from South Africa,” he said.

The eastern female black rhino that was also set to have a foundation named after her, is said to have not produced a calf since 1984, but was able to live that longer because it did not face any biological and ecological stress. Such stresses include giving birth to a group of calves and overcoming frequent attacks from other animals like Hyenas and Lions which prey on them.

However, wildlife experts believe that a female black rhino can give birth to a calf that weighs approximately between 65 and 90 pounds, after every 3 years on average and its gestation period is 18 months.

Original photo as published by Dailynews.

Fausta came into the limelight after wildlife enthusiasts in Kenya mourned the death of Solio, the country’s oldest rhino, who died at the age of 42 years, surpassing the average wild black rhino lifespan of 30-35 years while in the wild, and about 50 in confinement. In 2017, the eastern female black rhino’s monthly upkeep caused uproar in Parliament with a section of Parliament raising eyebrows on the money spent to care for it.

In response, the NCAA clarified that the government spent 1.4m/- on monthly basis to keep it not 64m/- as alleged, because of its frail health. Commenting, the then Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Professor Jumanne Maghembe, told the legislators that different researches and data collected on the rhino necessitated the animal to be kept because it was the only of its kinds in the country.

Statistics further show that rhinos are amongst the most poached animals in East Africa, with their population dwindling, forcing authorities to keep them in protected areas. The wild animals have over the years been hunted nearly to extinction as a result of their horns high demand as an ornament and medical values.

According to an international non-governmental organisation, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), rhinos once roamed many places throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa and were known to early Europeans who honoured them by further keeping them in paintings. By 1970, the rhino numbers dropped to 70,000 and today, as few as 29,000 of them remain in the wild, though only few survive outside National Parks and Reserves from poachers.

In Africa, southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now live in protected sanctuaries and are classified as near threatened.


Rhinos on the brink as poachers run riot in Botswana

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Graeme Baker, The Times | December 18, 2019

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Botswana’s tiny population of rhinoceroses is being “hammered” towards extinction by poachers in a surge of slaughter that is being left unchallenged by the government, conservationists have said.

Their warning came after the deaths of two southern white rhinos were reported yesterday. Their carcasses were found last week, minus horns, on Chief’s Island in the northern Okavango Delta, home to the country’s fewer than 400 rhinos.

Conservationists say 17 other rhinos have been illegally killed since April for their horns, which can fetch $50,000 a kilogram. The poaching rate had been about one a month. The rise in killings threatens to destroy Botswana’s efforts to reintroduce the animals, which had been wiped out there until a herd was imported at the turn of the century.

Original photo as published by The Times: Conservationists say 17 rhinos have been illegally killed since April for their horns. (Source: Alamy)

Poaching has soared since the election of President Masisi in October. He lifted a five-year hunting ban on elephants, saying that the population needed to be controlled.

Ross Harvey, an independent economist in South Africa who specialises in wildlife, said that drought and the failure of Mr Masisi’s government to stop the poachers had created a “perfect storm” that threatened a new extirpation. “Rhinos are being hammered in Botswana,” he said. “Their reintroduction was a major win but the Masisi government appears to have intentionally undermined those efforts. Wildlife is no longer being managed and the risk-reward ratio for poachers has changed.

“In the absence of law enforcement we are losing rhinos but also the profound effort to reintroduce them. Chief’s Island was well protected and surrounded by water but much of that is gone due to drought. It’s a free-for-all for poachers.”

The southern white is the only rhino species not on the endangered list but it has borne the brunt of poaching in recent years. Southern whites form the majority of the herd in Botswana, which also has a few critically endangered black rhinos. There are only three northern white rhinos, a distinct subspecies, left in the world.

Mmadi Reuben, of the wildlife department, admitted that at the increased rate of poaching “there will be no rhinos in Botswana in a year or two”. The government did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


Two white rhinos killed in Kenya, horns stolen

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The East African | December 9, 2019

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Two southern white rhinos have been shot and killed in central Kenya, and their horns stolen.

The raiders gained access to the highly secured electric-fenced Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Meru County around 11pm Friday night, Chief Operations Officer Dr Tuqa Jirmo confirmed.

In a statement to media, he said; “This incident serves as a reminder that the threat from poaching is ever present, and all sanctuaries holding rhinos cannot afford to be complacent. The poaching scourge and illegal rhino horn trade continue to put the survival of rhinos at risk across the continent.”

He added that the conservancy is working with the police and Kenya Wildlife Service over the incident.

Incredible pictures of endangered rhinos in Kenya

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Francesca Street, CNN | November 12, 2019

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Imposing, dignified and alone, a great white rhino strides through the grassy surrounds of Kenya’s Solio Lodge wildlife conservancy.

In another intimate shot, a black rhino calf and its mother are spotted feeding together, at the Lewa Conservency. Further south in the country, in the Tsavo West National Park, a black rhino is seen grazing at night, framed by rippling hills and illuminated by moonlight.

These powerful images are some of the highlights of British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas’ latest wildlife image series.

Burrard-Lucas’ traveled around Kenya, using a long lens — and sometimes his self-made camera contraptions — to capture intimate, up-close shots of these endangered creatures.

Black rhinos are “critically endangered,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Southern white rhinos, introduced into Kenya to help curb risk of extinction, are “near threatened.”

Burrard-Lucas’s aim was to capture photographs of the rhinos that his conservation partners, including the Borana Conservancy, the Tsavo Trust — both Kenyan-based not-for-profit organizations — and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) could use to advocate for these animals’ ongoing protection.

Original photo as published by CCN Travel: British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas took a series of stunning photographs of rhinos photographed in Kenya, including a white rhino at Solio Lodge wildlife conservancy, pictured here.

Intimate Moments

White rhinos are “quite sociable animals,” Burrard-Lucas tells CNN Travel. However he found black rhinos to be “very shy and elusive.”

These animals also prefer nighttime settings, so the photographer spent a month setting up his “Camtraptions” camera traps in the grounds of Tsavo West National Park, aiming to capture photos of black rhinos grazing and drinking.

“I worked with the conservationists to work out where to put my cameras, and then photographed these rhinos as they came to water at night,” says Burrard-Lucas.

For the tender snap of the rhinos feeding at the Lewa Conservency, Burrard-Lucas crouched down beside his vehicle and used a long lens.

“It’s a very different experience being able to actually see them while I’m photographing them,” he says. “That was a wonderful experience to be able to see that calf and mother going about their daily life.”

Burrard-Lucas, who says his love of wildlife photography stems from time spent in Tanzania as a child, previously published striking shots of a rare black leopard and a “big tusker” elephant in Kenya.

He’s currently working on a book showcasing his photographs of black leopards, due to be published in 2020.