Some good news for a change as black rhinos move to new home

29 October 2017 - 17:52 By Tony Carnie
Ursina Rusch injects an antidote drug to wake an anaesthetised black rhino prior to its release into a new home.
Ursina Rusch injects an antidote drug to wake an anaesthetised black rhino prior to its release into a new home.
Image: WWF/SA

At a time when the word ‘rhino’ has become synonymous with bloodshed‚ bullets and a poaching rate of three animals each day‚ it is not often that there is some good news.

Yet the sun does shine through the dark clouds from time to time – as happened last week‚ when a group of fourteen black rhinos from KwaZulu-Natal was shifted out of the province to help multiply one of Africa’s most endangered wildlife species.

The latest move – to a new private reserve in the north of the country – is part of a conservation project that began fourteen years ago‚ to spread out this increasingly vulnerable and iconic species from state land into private and community-owned reserves.

For security reasons‚ the location of the new black rhino reserve has not been disclosed.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says the aim is to provide more living and breeding space‚ thereby allowing the threatened animals to multiply as rapidly as possible.

Since 2003‚ when the range expansion project began‚ 11 small groups of black rhino have been shifted from

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape provincial parks. These small founder populations have grown significantly‚ to such an extent that several of the 14 animals moved last week were sourced from private or community parks that started off with small founder populations barely a decade ago.

“This is good news because it shows that the plan to increase black rhino numbers is working‚” said rhino range expansion project leader Dr Jacques Flamand.

A black rhino cow awaits release
A black rhino cow awaits release
Image: WWF/SA Melissa du Preez

Nevertheless‚ there are only about 5‚000 black rhinos left in Africa‚ with 2‚000 of them in South Africa.

Historically‚ black rhinos were once the most numerous of the world’s rhino species – numbering around 850‚000 across the continent. Rhino expert Dr Richard Emslie says the black species suffered a dramatic 98% collapse because of large-scale poaching between 1960 and 1995.

Today‚ just four countries (South Africa‚ Namibia‚ Zimbabwe and Kenya) protect almost 96% of Africa’s remaining black rhino population.

“Black rhino‚ and rhino generally‚ are under huge pressure. We really have to fight for them. If they don’t have champions‚ they are doomed to disappear‚” said Flamand.

But there has been steady progress with the project over the last decade‚ he said‚ with nearly 10% of the country’s entire black rhino population now living in the 11 newly-established range expansion areas.

Dr Morné du Plessis‚ CEO of WWF-SA‚ commented: “Projects like this bring hope as they contribute towards rhino recovery and show what is possible. We are delighted that we have been able to see this 11th move through to its conclusion – and hope to establish many more breeding populations to safeguard the future of this iconic species.”