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

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

10 Migrants Drown, While 4,100 Rescued off Libyan Coast

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen 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.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs