1,5-ton success story

2009-02-10 00:00

In the middle of the last century there were an estimated 65 000 Black Rhino in Africa. Over 95% were lost to poaching in the seventies and eighties. At one point there were only 2 000 Black Rhino left in the wild. Now numbers have increased to 4 000.

The Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, funded by the World Wildlife Fund, started in 2003 with the aim of increasing numbers and the growth rate of the critically endangered Black Rhino.

“The growth rates of populations had declined,” says project director Jacques Flamand. “In some cases there was negative growth, especially in Mfolozi and Hluhluwe.”

It was thought that the existing populations of Black Rhino had exceeded the carrying capacities of the various reserves and this was a factor in population decline. “A policy was put in place to remove five percent to 10% of animals to stimulate the growth rate,” says Flamand. “But the question was where to put them as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife couldn’t afford more land. Those animals put on auction were not benefiting KwaZulu-Natal as they were sold to farmers outside the province.”

Phase one of the project was aimed at landowners, firstly approaching those already involved in conservation to devote land to Black Rhinos. “We persuaded them to drop fences with neighbours to create areas large enough to carry Black Rhino.”

Three areas or partner sites received founder populations — 58 animals in total — of Black Rhino: Mun-ya-wana Game Reserve, Zululand Rhino Reserve and Pongola Game Reserve.

Phase two extended the project to include community-owned lands. “The land claims process provided an opportunity as people recovered lands that were already game farms.”

The Somkhanda Game Reserve became the first community-owned site to become a project partner. Owned by the Gumbi Community, which successfully claimed five commercial game farms under the Land Restitution process, the reserve received 11 animals in 2007. Their offspring will be shared equally between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the community, so there is the potential of a good return.

Black Rhino are a long-term investment, says Flamand. “The population grows in eight to 10 years and then you will be able to sell animals. Black Rhino fetched half-a-million rand at the last game auction.”

For rural communities, providing land for Black Rhino constitutes good use of marginal land as they occupy land not usable for anything else. Keeping land under conservation also opens the doors for ecotourism as well as hunting, which is a lucrative source of income.

Since the inception of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, the Black Rhino range in KwaZulu-Natal has been increased by 25% (74 000 hectares) and 15% of Black Rhino in the province are now on project partner sites.

Although Black Rhino numbers are slowly increasing, poaching has returned as a source of concern. “The increase in the volume of poaching is unheard of,” says Flamand. “There were 15 rhino taken in KwaZulu-Natal last year compared with none in the previous year and two or three per year before that.”

As far as is known, no Black Rhino have been poached. “Poachers tend to go for White Rhino,” says Flamand. “There are more of them and they have bigger horns, so you get more bucks for your bullet. White Rhino move in groups and are much easier to approach. But there is still concern that the level of poaching will see more Black Rhino being taken.”

Phase two of the project is now six months from completion and hopefully phase three is in the offing. “We are now motivating for funding to implement the third phase of the project which will extend it to other provinces,” says Flamand.

• Stephen Coan can be contacted at feature1@witness.co.za

Not grumpy, Just inquisitive

Black Rhino have a reputation for being bad-tempered, but are actually just shy and inquisitive. They investigate anything strange in their surroundings and tend to move towards a noise to explore the cause.

Black Rhino are browsers. They can grow to 1,6 metres tall, weigh up to 1,5 tons and run at 55 km/h.

They tend to live solitary lives, except for mothers and calves who stay together for several years. Births occur about three years apart.

Black rhino like thornveld with a mix of species including favourites such as acacias, tambotie and euphorbias.

They need to drink at least every two days so adequate surface water is important.

Black Rhino have a reputation for being bad-tempered, but are actually just shy and inquisitive. They investigate anything strange in their surroundings and tend to move towards a noise to explore the cause.

Black Rhino are browsers. They can grow to 1,6 metres tall, weigh up to 1,5 tons and run at 55 km/h.

They tend to live solitary lives, except for mothers and calves who stay together for several years. Births occur about three years apart.

Black rhino like thornveld with a mix of species including favourites such as acacias, tambotie and euphorbias.

They need to drink at least every two days so adequate surface water is important.

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