Rhino Case Study

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925388

Zimbabwe's Rhinos Under Attack by Poachers

Just after dawn on February 16th, 2009, Sinikwe, a black rhino cow, and her 16-month-old calf were ambushed by poachers in the thick brush. Sinikwe escaped with gunshot wounds. Her calf was shot and killed - its horn hacked off with an axe minutes after its death. For weeks, Sinikwe regularly returned to her calf's carcass. The poachers staked out the dead calf, hoping to catch Sinikwe and kill her too.

But now, there is some good news. Rhino monitors from the Lowveld Rhino Trust (a local Zimbabwean organization supported by the International Rhino Foundation) staked out the site as well, and were able to protect Sinikwe from the poachers. And, on May 17th, 2009, they successfully captured and moved Sinikwe, her brother, and several other members of their extended family out of the high-risk area where they lived, and into a much safer conservancy - greatly increasing our ability to protect them from poachers in the future!

As the economic crisis in Zimbabwe deepens, we are witnessing a significant increase in poaching. Rhino poaching in Zimbabwe (home to the fourth largest population of Critically Endangered black rhinos in the world) has doubled in the past year. Eighty-eight of the country's nearly 800 rhinos - more than ten percent of the population - were brutally killed by organized gangs of poachers in 2008, just for their horn. Actual losses are likely higher - these are only the documented poaching incidents. The slaughter continued unabated during the first half of 2009, with at least 25 rhinos already killed.

The Lowveld Rhino Trust, supported by the International Rhino Foundation, is working to save Zimbabwe's rhinos from poachers by proactively translocating rhinos from high-risk areas to safer locations; treating rhinos with snare wounds and injuries and returning them to the wild; helping authorities track, apprehend, and prosecute poachers; and intensively tracking and monitoring rhinos to ensure their safety.

The Trust is increasingly being forced to undertake emergency operations to rescue rhinos as poaching has increased. Rhino translocations are no easy feat. These expensive operations require the support of a team of vets, rangers and monitors; air support from a helicopter and a small fixed-wing aircraft for tracking and immobilizing the rhinos; and large trucks fitted with rhino crates and mounted cranes for transporting the immobilized rhinos.

With generous support from zoos, individuals and foundations, the International Rhino Foundation and partners launched the CRISIS Zimbabwe Campaign to raise funds for emergency operations in Zimbabwe, and to increase awareness about the need to combat poaching.

Thanks to the money raised by numerous committed individuals and organizations around the world, this summer, our heroic team in Zimbabwe was able to move 45 critically endangered black rhinos out of areas where they were particularly vulnerable to poachers. (To watch a video from the translocations operations, please visit our website at www.rhinos-irf.org.) It was a relief to rescue all 45 rhinos, but some deserve special mention.

Rosemary, a 7-year-old female, lost her mother, Myrtle, to poachers in November 2008 along with Myrtle's young calf, Mint. Myrtle's calf Basil was poached in December 2008, leaving Rosemary as Myrtle's only known offspring surviving in Bubiana Conservancy. When our teams found Rosemary, she was with Figtree, Marula's 4-year-old calf. Marula and Myrtle were "best friends" and always found close to each other or "babysitting" for one another's calves, so it is no surprise that their two offspring were together. We also were able to move both our local big heavies - Dozer and Ganya. Dozer had a number of new scars indicating he had been scrapping recently with Ganya. There was only one death on the operation - a year-old calf that had been badly wounded by poachers.

And, since May, eight poachers have been killed in the Lowveld during armed confrontations with police, compared to four known rhino poaching losses. So for the moment at least, the numbers are in the rhinos' favor.

There is still hope for Zimbabwe's rhinos. Even though poaching has doubled over the past year, births in the Lowveld Conservancies still exceed deaths. During the recently completed translocation operations, our rhino monitors found several new calves! If we can successfully protect Zimbabwe's rhinos during the current crisis and pressure the government to crack down on poaching, then this species can have a bright future indeed.

For more information, and to make a donation, please visit www.rhinos-irf.org.


Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 12254826

One of the most severe declines in population numbers was recorded with the drop in Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) numbers since 1960. The drastic decrease was linked to the exponential increase in the rhino horn trade. As a consequence black rhinos are spread across Southern Africa in small reserves/sanctuaries with low genetic diversity in these small populations (Garnier et al, 2001; Emslie, 1999). The effective size of a population is the best predictor of its ability to maintain genetic diversity. The most widely applied approach advocates that an effective population size of 50 is necessary in order to preserve populations from short-term genetic risks, whereas 500 animals is the effective population size required to maintain long-term adaptability (Soulé, 1980). However, these numbers are controversial. For the black rhino, small populations need to be managed as single larger metapopulations, which may entail moving animals between subpopulations (Garnier et al, 2001). Metapopulation management could potentially assist in the conservation of isolated subpopulations through genetic and demographic augmentation. Majete Wildlife Reserve forms part of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Program (BRREP), which aims to aid the black rhino through cooperating with reserves in Africa. The BRREP’s goal is to increase population numbers as well as growth rate of the worlds black rhino population, currently listed as critically endangered (IUCN 2008). To manage a newly established rhino population efficiently its ecological requirements must be addressed. Initially most Black rhino initiatives focussed on enhanced security through the deployment of paramilitary squads and fencing of reserves/sanctuaries. Although these activities are important, initiatives aimed at describing preferred ecological and habitat requirements of black rhino have received less attention from financial donors and resource managers. More recently, feeding and population ecology have been recognised as key pillars in understanding the wider implications of black rhino conservation. This project will address these knowledge gaps, and will in so doing, contribute to the population recovery of this critically endangered species.

The Majete Wildlife Reserve (MWR)[70,000ha] is located in the Lower Shire Valley at the southernmost tip of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Poaching was rife in the 1980/90’s and by 2000 most species had been eliminated, or reduced to very low numbers, including elephant and rhinos. Illegal logging, community encroachment, unsustainable fishing and uncontrolled agriculture were also widespread. MWR had no tourism and had little or no positive economic impact on the livelihoods of the numerous communities living on its periphery. In March 2003, African Parks Majete (Pty) Ltd, concluded an agreement with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife to take on responsibility for the rehabilitation, development and management of MWR. Paramount in the decision to rehabilitate MWR is the ecological significance of MWR as a remnant representation of the Eastern Miombo Ecoregion (an endangered, species-rich African tropical savanna ecosystem) and its local significance of habitat provision, ecosystem functions provided by the various woodland types and the Shire River. The potential for community enrichment through conservation also contributed to the rehabilitation decision. A total of 2554 animals of 14 species were re-introduced including black rhino.

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