Saving Kenya's Black Rhinos
Kenya’s black rhinos are under siege. It is against this background that WWF in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service is spearheading efforts towards saving the animals from extinction. In an exercise that lasted a week (26/08/13-1/2/13), 10 black rhinos were translocated from Lake Nakuru National Park to Borana Conservancy in Laikipia, Rift Valley, Kenya. Eleven more were translocated to Borana from the neighbouring Lewa Conservancy bringing the total number of rhinos translocated to 21.
According to Kenya Wildlife Service black rhino population numbers have dropped from 20,000 in 1970 to less than 600 in 2013. In 2012 Kenya lost 30 rhinos. This year (2013) it has already lost 37 individuals. At this rate it will not be long before this prehistoric species is confined to annals of history.
Speaking during the exercise, Ben Okita (Rhino Coordinator, Kenya Wildlife Service) said “One of the key objectives of the rhino programme is to establish sanctuaries where breeding is enhanced and removing surplus to start new populations. In this case we are moving the excess rhinos from Lake Nakuru National Park to a new habitat - the Borana Conservancy. We are grateful to WWF for funding this exercise, which is part of the black rhino conservation work that WWF has been supporting for the last 25 years. In appreciation for their gesture we have named one of the translocated rhinos WWF.”
WWF Rhino coordinator, Robert Ndetei said, “Black rhino numbers in this park has been increasing. With rhinos if the population density gets to a certain level, they no longer breed at a desired rate, which may not contribute to the desired 1% per annum as stipulated in Kenya’s National Black Rhino Conservation Strategy. The essence of this exercise is to reduce the excess numbers and create space for breeding purposes so that we can achieve the country growth target.”
Black rhino growth in population is affected by habitat carrying capacity and mortality through natural death or human induced especially through poaching or illegal killing, which in the recent past has escalated due to increased demand in rhino horn especially in Vietnam.
Following research conducted by KWS it was found that the rhino population in Lake Nakuru National Park has exceeded it carrying capacity. Borana conservancy was identified and established by KWS and other stakeholders including Lewa, Solio and Ol pejeta as a suitable breeding ground for the rhinos owing to suitable habitat- plenty forage, water and space.
WWF has been at the forefront of rhino conservation since 1985 when it supported the establishment of the first black rhino sanctuary in Kenya at the Lake Nakuru National Park.
Apart from supporting translocations, WWF contributes to support the protection of the black rhino through establishment of new sanctuaries-the latest being Tsavo East. Moreover, WWF through WWF Africa Rhino programme is supporting the rhino DNA profiling that aims at rhino data base for identification purposes.
Among other projects WWF is supporting KWS include setting up an aerial center that conducts periodic recces for rhino movement monitoring, equipment for individual rhino identification, in the form of night vision binoculars, digital cameras, camera traps, GPS facilities and fencing materials to establish new conservation sanctuaries, human development through field training, short courses and specialized rhino management courses.
By Johnstone Mulary