Helping to save SA’s rhinos

2008-03-15 00:00

The Gumbi community in the Mkhuze area of northern Zululand were yesterday recognised for their efforts in contributing significantly to rhino conservation in Africa. One of the community’s leaders, Nathi Gumbi, received a prestigious Rhino Champion award from the WWF African Rhino Programme in this regard.

The awards ceremony co-incided with the African Rhino Programme’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Gumbi was one of seven local and international conservation landowners or conservation managers singled out as Rhino Champions for helping to bring populations of the white and black rhino species in Africa back from the brink of extinction, due to poaching and habitat destruction across the ranges of these animals.

“Nathi was instrumental in setting up the Gumbi community’s Somkhanda Game Reserve and then convincing the Gumbis to participate in the WWF/Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino Range Expansion Project,” said the WWF’s International Species programme director Dr Susan Lieberman.

“Somkhanda was the first community-owned conservation area to become a partner in the project, and in 2007, 11 black rhino were released on to the reserve.”

The KZN-based Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, a pillar of the WWF’s African Rhino Programme, aims to increase populations of this species by introducing founder populations sourced from Ezemvelo game reserves on to privately owned conservation areas in the province. According to the project’s manager, Dr Jacques Flamand, hopes are to have a KZN black rhino population totalling 1 000 as soon as possible. Black rhino numbers in the province are currently around 500 animals.

WWF spokeswoman Sarah Janicke explained: “In 1997 there were 8 466 white rhinos and 2 599 black rhinos remaining in the world”.

“Ongoing and concerted rhino conservation efforts in Africa since then have helped to increase these figures to the current 14 500 white rhinos and nearly 4 500 of the more endangered black rhino.”

While praising the efforts of Gumbi and his fellow Rhino Champions, chairman of the KZN Conservation Board Dr Patrick Sokhela also encouraged conservation authorities to continue seeking partnerships with communities in conservation initiatives.

“Landowners, or land occupiers, are the most effective managers of their resources. Once granted access to their natural resources, it is natural for people to guard such resources because they see benefits accruing,” Sokhela said.

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