Map Ives, Botswana’s #1 rhino conservationist, takes a breather from his current black rhino translocation project to update us on its recent successes…
"To put the problem of black rhino conservation into perspective, one needs to understand the almost complete collapse of this species between 1900 and 1980. At the turn of the 19th century there were probably still over 100 000 black rhinos in Africa, but by 1980 these had been reduced to only about 2 200 animals, most of which were in KwaZulu-Natal with a reasonable population in Zimbabwe.
As part of a range expansion programme, and as the population in South Africa began to recover under intensive management, two major moves of black rhinos took place. The first was to take up to 75 black rhinos to the Kruger National Park between 1971 and 1989, with the second moving a viable population to the Great Fish River Reserve in the Eastern Cape between 1986 and 1992.
During the late 80s and into the 90s the Zimbabwe black rhinos came under extreme poaching pressure in the Zambezi Valley and another large move of these critically endangered animals was undertaken to the south-central parts of Zimbabwe
These three translocations were, up until now, the largest moves of black rhino undertaken in attempts to rescue this species from the edge of extinction.
Between 2014 and 2015 our Botswana Rhino Project brought black rhinos from five different source populations in two countries (South Africa and Zimbabwe) to Botswana and has been applauded by top rhino managers and conservationists in both countries and has enjoyed the support of all three Governments.
Undertaking such a complex operation takes one hell of a lot of planning, painstaking paperwork and the untiring efforts of a wide range of people. These critically endangered animals cannot be moved without the complete approval of governments and conservation officials. There was a high level of cooperation between the Botswana Government and those of the various provinces in South Africa (Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga) as well as the Zimbabwe Government. It also requires that the management of the National Parks, Game Reserves and Conservancies from which the animals are sourced are happy with and are part of, the overall project, and the staff of Malilangwe Reserve in Zimbabwe, Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Reserve were certainly very much part of the success of this project.
The involvement of the Botswana Government was incredible; from the very highest office in our land comes a message that our wildlife is to be protected at all costs. Our Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism, Mr Tshekedi Khama, not only approved the translocations, but he personally negotiated the donation of black rhinos from Zimbabwe with his counterpart Mr Saviour Kasukuwere in Zimbabwe, whilst their Directors of Wildlife and National Parks were also enthusiastic supporters of this bold undertaking. Permits and permissions were sought and granted from CITES authorities and Environmental Departments in all three countries, and I was impressed that, with so many people involved, this paperwork managed to come together. The officials from the Departments of Immigration, Customs and Veterinary in Botswana facilitated our exits from and entries to Botswana at short notice.
The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) played a major role in this unique airlift too, providing the Lockheed Hercules C130 aircraft and crew, which not only saved huge amounts of time on transporting sedated animals, but also made the journey more comfortable than a road transfer, and ensured that the rhinos were extremely safe during transit.
The brave crews on this aircraft must be mentioned. Never before has a C130 landed on a remote, gravel strip such as we were asking them to do, but after some assessment by the captain of the aircraft, they put this huge aircraft onto the ground in very smooth landings, not once but more than eight times. The BDF ground forces, along with prominent elements of the Botswana Anti-Poaching Unit of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, have also contributed major troops and equipment to provide security at all stages of the operation and have increased their presence on the ground in the Okavango to high levels. These ground troops were also deployed at the bomas in the Delta where they happily helped the boma managers care for the rhinos in the pens as well as providing armed security 24 hours a day.
None of this would have been possible without the help of an impressively professional team of capture experts and veterinarians whose passion and dedication to their craft amazed all who worked with them. Conservation Solutions not only found solutions to the everyday problems one does encounter when moving large animals by truck and by air, but did so with such good humour, making life a lot easier for everyone.
Our own team, from the top down, has shown that we are certainly the leading conservation and tourism company in the industry today. I have asked them to spend long, long, cold, and stressful hours, days and weeks capturing, loading, travelling and caring for rhinos in bomas, not to mention the interminable paper work required to move rhinos. (Being such an endangered species, I like to say that no rhino shall move until the weight of the paperwork exceeds the weight of the rhino).
Of course, none of this could happen without all the financial help we receive from so many sources. So many unsung people with one goal – to help these black rhinos back to a place where we know they will be safe and succeed."
Africa's Biggest Ever International Black Rhino Relocation (see the infographic online here)
Translocation photos © Russel Friedman