Population increase recorded for rhinos in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld despite poaching

Posted on 02 July 2008

The Population of black rhinos in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld area continues to increase, despite setbacks to conservation efforts due to rampant poaching.

Raoul du Toit, manager for WWF’s Rhino Conservation project in the Lowveld conservancies, reports an annual increase of about 10 percent of the rhino’s population in those conservancies during 2007 despite greater poaching pressure that accounted for the deaths of 14 black rhinos in the Save Valley, Bubiana and Chiredzi districts.

“There has been a record increase of black rhinos in the Lowveld conservancies over the past six months, from 370 in June 2007 to the current population of 388. The population of the white rhino now stands at about 135,” said du Toit.

These figures are derived from close monitoring of the populations, through ground-tracking and individual recognition of ear-notched rhinos, supplemented by radio-tracking, on a more intensive basis than is undertaken for most large, free-ranging rhino populations in Africa.

“Hands-on rhino conservation is also being implemented on an intensive basis, with 96 black rhino and 28 white rhino drug-dartings having been undertaken in the Lowveld conservancies during 2007 with project staff, equipment and funding for various security-related and management-related reasons.”

Ongoing technical advice has been provided to facilitate the elaboration of policy on wildlife-based land reform, through constructive dialogue with officials of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and other stakeholders.

However, this has not yet translated into meaningful progress on the ground in resolving unplanned settlement in dry areas that are unsuited to small-scale farming. These land-use conflicts have stimulated poaching, which threatens to undermine the gains in the Lowveld rhino population.

Several NGOs that are involved in supporting rhino conservation in Zimbabwe, including WWF, recently put together a document to detail their concerns about the growing rhino poaching menace.

One welcome response of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of the Environment was to convene an emergency workshop of stakeholders in December last year, with WWF facilitation, to draw up an emergency action plan to tackle the threat.

The Lowveld conservancies have remained Zimbabwe’s primary rhino breeding areas despite land invasions (leading to snaring risks and loss of habitats) and economic problems associated with the national situation. By the end last year, the conservancies contained 73 percent of Zimbabwe’s remaining black rhino population and 45 percent of the national white rhino population.

To maintain this situation, and to also allow other rhino populations in the country to recover, the various NGOs who are involved in the rhino conservation effort are pressing for speedy implementation of the anti-poaching action plan.

This plan includes measures such as dehorning rhinos, along with the improvement of basic law-enforcement and gathering of intelligence through the formation of district-level coordination committees involving government authorities and conservancies.

The importance of this coordination has been demonstrated through the recent arrest of one rhino poacher in Save Valley Conservancy.

Black Rhinos in Southern Africa
© WWF/ Simson Uri-Khob