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Conservationists Work to Bring Black Rhino Back to Zambia

Thirty years ago, Zambia's Black Rhino was extinct. However, a group of conservationists are working to re-introduce the Black Rhino in Zambia's game reserves. Four groups are behind the move: the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Germany's Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

James Phiri is the country coordinator of the WWF in Zambia. He says his group is saddened by the previous failure of conservationists to keep rhinos in the parks. Poachers have killed almost 12,000 that were bought by the Zambia Wildlife Authority in 2003.

Phiri says the disappearance of Black Rhinos from Zambia's Game Management Areas has resulted in the derailment of the country's eco-system and a drop in the number of tourists in some parks, "As WWF we are supporting the re-stocking and sustenance of the Black Rhino. We are working through our Harare (Zimbabwean capital) office to make sure that the population of the Black Rhino is raised."

The Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York City, is working to protect the new rhino stocks. It's involved in a project designed to turn poachers into conservationists.

Poachers can sell rhino horns for up to 24,000 dollars in the Far East, where they are used in making traditional medicines such as fever reducing drugs and ornamental handles for daggers.

Ruth Simwanza is a programs officer at the Zambia office of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Simwanza has been coordinating a project that encourages poachers to disarm and conserve wildlife. The poachers who agree to disarm are offered basic training.

Simwanza explains: "We initially worked with a group of about 60 poachers. These poachers are required to voluntarily surrender their guns and snares, which they once used for poaching. Once they have done that they are recruited into a training program which will take about six to seven weeks. During [this time], they are [introduced to] a number of activities, including conservation farming, carpentry, tin smithing, vegetable farming, bee keeping and fish farming."

The Wildlife Conservation Society has also initiated another program, called Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO). This initiative helps reformed poachers and other rural people look after wildlife while making an income. Kalupya Zimba is one of the people that have benefited from the program.

"COMACO is working simply because it addresses rural poverty. What happens is that a hungry person would rather kill (poach) an impala (similar to the gazelle) to sell for food or money and they won't even care that I will go to prison when they are caught. But COMACO has very aggressive marketing techniques which help us to sell our [new skills, like carpentry]."

The Black Rhinos to be re-introduced in Zambian wildlife estates will be imported from Kenya and from neighboring countries which would likely have similar rhino, like South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The effort comes as a team of American scientists say their research has found that different subspecies of the Black Rhino are genetically similar and can be bred to produce strong and hardy animals.

WWF Country Coordinator for Zambia James Phiri is urging Zambians to ensure they safeguard the newly imported animals by teaching them, for example, the importance of the rhino to tourism. Authorities will also be adding more protection for the rhino, placing some in areas protected with barbed wire or armed guards.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has banned all international trade of rhino parts and products. It says there are less than 4,000 Black Rhinos in the wild today.