In November of 2102 mutual concern over the safety of the black rhino in Liwonde National Park inspired Wilderness Safaris, Bentley Palmer and the Department of National Parks to work together on a plan for the long term survival of this important population.
The first step in this plan was the accurate monitoring of existing rhino and to do this we needed to dart and collar as many rhino as we could and then secure them as much as possible within the Liwonde Sanctuary Fence to allow for easier control and monitoring.
The Wilderness Trust, an independent conservation body founded by Wilderness Safaris, supplied the radio collars and soon afterwards a new Nissan pickup. Simultaneously, Bentley Palmer, a dedicated conservationist from Blantyre and who has been active from the very beginning of the original rhino reintroductions in 1993, found the funding to replace the damaged sanctuary fence with a new, less intrusive three strand fence specifically designed to contain rhino, but easily jumped over or crawled under by most other species in the park. Work on this fence is on-going.
Pete Morkel, a renowned rhino vet came to Liwonde in November and managed to dart and collar six rhino. Simultaneously Kriztian Gyongyi, an experienced rhino scientist and ecologist came to Liwonde to assist in the monitoring process. Between November 2012 and June 2013, Kriztian, ably supported by a dedicated team of National Parks Scouts, has been monitoring these rhino, establishing their territorial boundaries, browse preferences and interaction with each other to give us a better picture of how to protect and assist them. In order to raise more funds, Wilderness Safaris with National Parks assistance, has embarked on a rhino tracking experience for guests which is bringing in more funds and increasing awareness of the species.
From June 9th to 19th this year Pete Morkel returned to dart more rhino as we attempt to get the entire population of 14 collared.
This whole process has been an admirable example of collaboration between concerned conservation bodies. The Department of National Parks has consistently provided increased personnel on the ground to assist in the protection and monitoring, and African Parks from their base in Majete have unfailingly assisted with supplying extra scouts, and a dart gun when needed. Pete Morkel, despite a heavy workload all over Africa has always found time to come to Malawi at short notice to give of his invaluable expertise.
Malawi can take huge pride in the success of its rhino programme. At the same time we face a huge challenge: rhino are being poached at an alarming rate in countries with far greater resources than we have and the survival of the Liwonde rhino depends on the long term sustainability of this programme.