“Botswana will become the next Noah’s Ark for rhinos in Africa”

white-rhino

The rhino poaching situation in southern Africa and especially South Africa is at crisis proportions at this time, with up to 3 rhinos being poached on average PER DAY in South Africa alone.

If this keeps going at this rate, the rate of killing will exceed that of births by next year, precipitating a slide towards the extinction abyss.  To fully understand this, the reader needs to understand the background and delicate needs of rhino conservationists in all African Range States.

The southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) was actually brought back from the very edge of extinction by excellent and highly motivated management between the early 1900’s and the year 2000.  By about 1960 there were estimated to be about 100 white rhinos left in the wilds of South Africa with very few anywhere else in Africa.

An alarmed group of conservationists in Kwa-Zulu Natal brought as many of these animals to the northern Kwa-Zulu conservation complex and put them under armed guard and started to breed them back from this dangerous situation.  Over the next fifty years, using improved immobilization and translocation techniques these amazing teams moved white rhinos from this breeding core to other areas of suitable habitat and where rhinos had previously occurred.  So successful have they been, and so well managed their plan, that the white rhino had recovered to over 20,000 animals by 2008, most of them in the Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa.

A story that few people know, and which is perhaps more alarming is  …

… that when the white rhinos were at about 100 animals in 1960 there were still an estimated 120,000 black rhinos in the wilds of Africa.  Due to a wider use of the savannah habitat, the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) was more widely spread through Africa and probably, originally more numerous.  The alarming part of this, is that whilst the white rhino was being rescued from the edge, the poachers across Africa turned on the black rhinos in the thickets and forests of Africa and, in what can only be described as a slaughter, these black rhinos were reduced from the 120,000 mentioned, to below 2,000 by the year 2000.

118,000 black rhinos were killed by poachers in just 40 years from 1960 to 2000

Again, there are stories of rescue by three countries in particular.  South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe have all done excellent work in bringing this black rhino killing spree to a temporary halt in the early 2000’s allowing a recovery to about 4,000 animals by 2008.  Protection of a small population was also carried out in Tanzania and Kenya.  So, by 2008 there were just over 20,000 white rhino and 4,000 black rhino left in Africa.

Sadly, 2008 was the year that the organised onslaught started again.

Mainly focused on South Africa, but Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent Namibia have been targeted as well.  In the last six years several thousand rhinos of both species have been killed by all sorts of poachers, but with a market driven by highly organised international syndicates.  The statistics are widely available, but there is no question that the world has to unite to combat this scourge.

Here in Botswana, both species had also occurred in thousands in centuries past, and which were also wiped out during the hunting and poaching of the late 1800’s and the bulk of the 1900’s.  We had started a program in the year 2000 when the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks Botswana and Wilderness Safaris joined forces to return these two species back to Botswana.  The northern Botswana area including the Okavango delta is a remarkably pristine and intact environment which has perfect habitat for rhinos, but perhaps more importantly, the advent of tourism has brought about a much greater presence of people on the ground which is a discouragement to poachers.  The Botswana Defence Force has also been ordered to place anti-poaching at the top of their agenda and have proven to be incredibly efficient at preventing poaching across Botswana.

Working together with the government in South Africa and with conservation agencies in that country, Botswana is now seen as a country in which rhinos have a safe haven and to which a selection of white and black rhinos are being returned.  It this project that I oversee, and for which we are desperately raising funds worldwide.

I am unable to say exactly how many animals are involved and also where they are being released or kept, but given the history of rhino conservation as outlined above, we know that Botswana will become the next Noah’s Ark for these species in Africa.

An important point to make here is that we have excellent political leadership in Botswana who absolutely back our efforts and those of our partners.  I am convinced that it is this leadership which has engendered so much trust in us as a conservation nation by those who are sending the rhinos to us for protection, and which is providing the breeding base for the future of these species here.

Martin (Map) Ives
National Rhino Coordinator, Botswana
www.rhinoconservationbotswana.com

If you would like to help with a much-need donation for Botswana’s efforts in rhino conservation, please contact Map via the website above. Thank you.