News / Africa

Conservation Project Saves Endangered Black Rhinos

South African initiative creates new areas where the animals are able to thrive

Darren Taylor
This is Part 5 of a 5-part series:  Saving Africa’s Endangered Rhinos
Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

 

In November last year, the residents of a rural area in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province witnessed a surprising sight. High above their heads, silhouetted against an azure sky, suspended upside down by its legs and dangling from ropes below a speeding helicopter, was a blindfolded rhinoceros.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature has been relocating rare black rhino to areas in South Africa where the animals will hopefully breed
The Worldwide Fund for Nature has been relocating rare black rhino to areas in South Africa where the animals will hopefully breed

On that particular day, this scene repeated itself a number of times, as a team of dedicated conservationists transported 19 rare black rhinos to an area where it’s hoped they’ll soon begin breeding.

“We took those rhinos from an area where they needed to be reduced, to keep that population breeding adequately. So we were taking them from an area of high density to a new area, to create a new population of black rhino,” said Dr. Jacques Flamand, an internationally respected wildlife veterinarian and the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.

According to the WWF, there are only about 4,800 of the animals left in Africa, about 1,900 of them in South Africa. There are also a few black rhinos in zoos around the world.

The creatures remain critically endangered – not the least because poachers are killing them and their bigger white rhino cousins for their horns. The South African government says criminals killed more than 1,000 rhinos in the country in the past five years – and almost 450 in 2011 alone.

Wildlife expert Dr. Jacques Flamand is in charge of the WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project
Wildlife expert Dr. Jacques Flamand is in charge of the WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project

The poaching epidemic is driven by the scientifically disproven belief that ground rhino horn cures cancer. It fetches very high prices on the black market in Asia.

Seven new rhino populations

The WWF said black rhinos were relatively common across Africa until the 1960s. “Wildlife used to be so plentiful that people thought animals like black rhino were a limitless resource,” said Flamand. “So they shot so many. I remember in East Africa when I was a child people were shooting rhino just for sport. That was part of the (black rhino’s) decline.”

He continued, “More importantly was a loss of habitat – more and more people encroaching onto their land and pushing them out. They’re not very tolerant of disturbance.”

Flamand has worked as a veterinarian and government wildlife advisor across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. His project to increase black rhino numbers in South Africa began in 2003. He maintained there weren’t enough suitable areas in the country to hold the animals.

“This project was designed to try and address that by entering into partnerships with other landowners – not necessarily landowners traditionally involved in conservation – to find land that would be able to harbor black rhino,” he said.

To find the very big tracts of land that black rhino need in order to thrive, and especially in South Africa’s Zululand region, was always a challenge, Flamand told VOA.

As part of the WWF’s efforts to save the black rhino, the organization has been lifting animals by means of helicopters to areas in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province
As part of the WWF’s efforts to save the black rhino, the organization has been lifting animals by means of helicopters to areas in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province

“What we needed were areas that could harbor a population of at least 50 black rhino (each). And that, in Zululand for instance, translates to about 200 square kilometers – and nobody had farms that size,” he said, explaining further, “So through a lot of hard work we’ve succeeded in getting landowners to join their properties to create the very big areas that black rhino need.”

The landowners, helped by the WWF, took down the many fences on their properties that would have hindered rhino movements – and therefore breeding. In so doing, the large areas needed by black rhino were formed.

“To date we’ve been successful in creating seven such areas and there are more in the pipeline. We’ve released seven new populations of black rhino in the hope that they’re going to breed successfully,” said Flamand.

The new populations of black rhino are made up of a total of 120 animals. Landowners participating in the project are implementing extremely tight security systems on their ranches to keep the rhinos safe from poachers.

Rhinos a ‘liability’ because of poaching

Flamand agreed that the mere presence of rhino on land in South Africa ensured that the property could be targeted by criminals trying to get their hands on the animals’ valuable horns. “A lot of people don’t want rhino (on their land) because they’ve become a liability with the poaching, and that is a problem,” the wildlife veterinarian acknowledged.

Rhinos in a zoo in France
Rhinos in a zoo in France

He added that even in the absence of poaching, rhinos are a “hard sell.” Flamand explained that there are “very few” immediate benefits for landowners of having black rhino on their land, unless the owners are “into tourism and can use black rhino as a marketing tool.… But some landowners aren’t in the tourism industry.…”

Nevertheless, he and the WWF have succeeded in persuading a number of South African ranchers of the conservation benefits of hosting populations of black rhinos.

“The key to getting adequate land is finding a champion in that block of land who carries the project for you,” Flamand emphasized. Those “champions” he said then persuade other landowners of the long-term worthiness of the project in protecting one of South Africa’s famous Big Five game animals.

Helicopter transport safer for rhinos

In explaining the latest relocation of 19 black rhino, when the animals were airlifted by helicopter to a suitable area of KwaZulu-Natal, Flamand said it had been “very difficult to pull off…. First of all, we had a lot of different organizations participating in the capture. It was a huge army of people – from veterinarians to veterinary technicians to drivers, laborers and so on.”

The black rhinos are darted and sedated by experts. “While they are sleeping we hitch them up (to a helicopter). So they are fast asleep and they don’t know what’s going on.”

Dr. Flamand said the rhino airlifts were very difficult to accomplish successfully
Dr. Flamand said the rhino airlifts were very difficult to accomplish successfully

Ultra-strong ropes are then tied around the rhinos ankles. “This technique of lifting them by the ankles is proving very popular with vets because it doesn’t hurt the animal and it’s very effective and quick,” said Flamand.

Black rhinos commonly weigh about two tons, but Flamand said transporting them by helicopter rather than by huge trucks is much more effective because it is much faster, which also means the animals are sedated for shorter periods of time. Veterinarians say the longer an animal is under sedation, the greater its chance of dying.

The rhinos’ ankles are tied to helicopters with extremely strong ropes
The rhinos’ ankles are tied to helicopters with extremely strong ropes

Flamand said all possible measures were taken to ensure the rhinos’ safety and well-being. “When we finally do wake them up, they don’t know what they’ve been through at all, so there’s absolutely no trauma associated with this…. The rhinos were accompanied all the way by a vet so we could be sure that they had the best possible care during the trip and at the release as well.”

Wild dogs also benefit

Flamand said his project’s major achievement has been to increase the range of black rhino in Southern Africa, thereby laying the foundation to greatly boost the animal’s numbers in the future and prevent its extinction.

Dr. Flamand assists with the release of a black rhino on land in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Dr. Flamand assists with the release of a black rhino on land in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

He added, “Of course this doesn’t directly address the poaching issue but we are helping in this regard by getting rhino to breed faster.”

Flamand also stressed that the initiative benefits other endangered wildlife, since they too now have more safe land available to them on which to breed. “It’s not only good for black rhino; it’s good for elephants and vultures and especially (for) other critically endangered species like the wild dog,” he pointed out.

Flamand said wild dogs, once near extinction, are now “increasing very well” as a result of also settling on the new black rhino conservation areas.

“The wild dogs now also have larger spaces available to them and can roam freely without encountering fences every few kilometers,” he said.

People trying to prevent the extinction of black rhinos describe Flamand’s project as one of the greatest-ever African conservation success stories.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

Border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared their stories More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs