GPS boosts SA rhino conservation

2013-07-15 14:01
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Rhinos darted and tagged in KZN

A team from the Wildlands Conservation Trust, accompanied by Shaun Pollock, have carried out a rhino darting and tagging exercise in Zululand to fight poaching activity. See the pictures.

Cape Town - A conservation group has carried a darting programme to tag rhino in Kwa-Zulu Natal in order to track the animals and limit poaching.

The programme was carried out at an undisclosed location in Zululand and the team from the Wildlands Conservation Trust used helicopters to track and dart seven rhino.

"The process makes use of helicopters to locate the rhino as well as experienced, on the ground rhino monitors, allowing us to locate the rhino fairly easily," Kevin McCann project manager for the Trust told News24 about how the animals were targeted.

He added though, that the habits of the Black Rhino make it slightly more difficult to find.

"Black Rhino are also a little more difficult than white rhino as they are usually tucked away in dense bush, in comparison to White Rhino that prefer the more open terrain."

Ongoing programme

According to, 446 rhino have been poached in SA in 2013 and some have argued that at the current rate, rhino will become extinct in Africa within decades.

In the early twentieth century, white rhino were hunted almost to extinction with only about 50 animals left in Africa. Through the efforts of the then Natal Parks Board, their number increased to around 20 000.

Black rhino, conversely, numbered about 70 000 until about 1970, and that plummeted to 2 500 in 1990. Today, there is an African population of 5 000.

McCann said that the ongoing programme monitored rhino in order to plan future darting exercises to protect the animals from poachers.

"Daily monitoring of the rhino population takes place on the reserve (in effect an on-going census), which enables us to identify new rhinos and therefore plan future darting exercise to notch this for future identification."

Technology has emerged as one of the key ways that rhino can be protected and the GPS devices fitted to the animals give rangers a critical advantage against poachers.

GPS technology

According to McCann, the GPS technology provided by the Wildlife ACT Fund has proved critical to help rangers know where the animals are.

"The fitting of GPS tracking technologies (complimented by aerial support) to rhino enables the reserve staff, and particularly the field rangers, to have a much better understanding of the daily and seasonal movement patterns of the animals.

He said that information on rhino location provides ranger with tools to reduce the impact of poaching.

"This allows the field rangers to adjust their patrol routes to secure these rhino, and to better respond to real or potential incidents as they occur (the reaction time is reduced due to the positioning of light aircraft in reserves), particularly as the field rangers have a good understanding of the rhino’s location. This ultimately reduces the potential for poaching to take place on a reserve."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    kwa-zulu natal  |  rhino poaching

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