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

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid