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On a routine patrol in July, monitors from the International Rhino Foundation’s (IRF) partner, the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), spotted a young black rhino calf that appeared to be injured, wandering in the bush of the Bubye Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe. At 16 months old, the female calf had been orphaned after her mother was killed by poachers, injuring her in the process as well. In some good news, the calf- named “Pumpkin”- has since fully recovered and been released back into the wild.

Pumpkin had been shot with a heavy caliber rifle, causing her severe injuries. After being treated, she was taken to specially constructed rhino bomas to continue to be cared for by LRT staff and to recover in safety.

Natasha Anderson, IRF’s Zimbabwe Monitoring Coordinator, says, “This little girl had enough personality and the fight for three rhinos. Although she was obviously scared without her mother and in considerable pain, the LRT team increasingly became more confident that she would recover from her bullet wounds because she was displaying what a fighter she was.”

After six weeks of care from the LRT team in Zimbabwe, the black rhino calf made a full recovery and it was soon time to release her back into the wild.

During her stay in the boma she had been receiving night visits from a wild rhino named Rocky, a former orphan as well. A few days after Pumpkin was released, LRT rhino monitors found her spoor with Rocky’s. “It is likely that they will join up and live together, both finding the company they craved at last since tragically losing their mothers to poaching,” said Anderson.

You might also like: Rhino Poaching Has Dropped Amid COVID-19, But What Does the Future Hold For the Species?

In its State of the Rhino report, the IRF found that in Africa, the black rhino population had a small increase to 5 630 from 5 500 in 2019. While this is a considerable gain from the 2 300 that remained in the early 1990s, it is still a fraction of the 65 000 population level in 1970.

However, as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions begin to ease in many countries, poaching is on the rise again and with widespread economic losses, more people may be pushed into rhino poaching, the largest threat to rhinos’ survival. A decline in the price for rhino horn, trending downward since 2015, has unfortunately not disincentivised poachers.

Anderson says, “LRT’s monitoring program is crucial. If you don’t know exactly how many rhinos are out there, it’s impossible to determine the level of poaching or its impact on protection efforts.”

Featured image by: Flickr 

Borana Conservancy is a wildlife sanctuary situated at the foothills of Mount Kenya. Spreading over 13 000 hectares, it aims to provide a sustainable ecosystem for critically endangered species, including black rhinos, elephants, lions, reticulated giraffes and Grevy’s zebras. It has also shown commitment to the surrounding communities, ensuring a harmonious relationship between the animals and humans in their network.

In 2013, a founding population of 21 black rhinos was introduced to Borana Conservancy. Once they were settled and had established territories, the fence between Borana and the neighbouring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was dropped, forming one landscape. This created over 92 000 acres of wilderness which now supports over 200 black and white rhinos, making it one of East Africa’s largest continuous rhino habitats. 

Conservation

In 2019, there were a total of 32 rhino births (17 black and 15 white) across the Lewa/ Borana Landscape. Populations for all other species are stable or increasing; since 2016, buffalo populations have risen by over 100% to a current population of over 2 000. The joint landscapes are home to 46% of Kenya’s black rhino population, 90% of the global population of the endangered Grevy’s zebra, over 7 000 elephants and many others. 

You might also like: Europe’s Largest Marine Protected Area in Scotland Comes Into Force

Environmental Care

Borana Conservancy is working to achieve carbon neutrality over the next three years. All of its houses and lodges are powered by solar farms with a combined total output of over 300 KVA. To achieve this carbon neutrality goal, it has set time bound targets with its carbon footprint measured on a monthly basis. 

It also has a recycling eco centre at its headquarters. All properties sort waste on site and then the eco centre receives it and stores it. It also has a glass crusher that makes “eco-concrete” for buildings and has completely eliminated single-use plastics. 

Moving forward, Borana Conservancy has launched the work on attaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which it hopes will lead onto II Ngwesi and the Mukogodo Forest. 

Community Upliftment

Besides its wildlife conservation work, Borana has also shown its commitment to uplifting the community around it. Through the Borana Education Support Programme, it invests in primary, secondary and tertiary education through contributions to bursaries, faculty and facilities. The Conservancy also has a mobile clinic that administers thousands of services, including health education, family planning, HIV/AIDS counselling, immunisations and basic healthcare services. Altogether, Borana provides employment, pensions and health insurance to over 400 members of its immediate community.

Borana also works with women’s groups in the neighbouring area who make beaded products. These items are sold across the Conservancy’s properties, with all profits going back to the women’s groups.

Featured image by: Sean Mousley

The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) released its 2020 State of the Rhino report in mid-September that outlines current conservation trends of the world’s five species, including the impacts of COVID-19 on rhino poaching.

There has been a decrease in the number of rhino poaching incidents during the first half of the year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Borders around the world closed and international and domestic travel was restricted. Additionally, there has been increased military and police presence, regular checkpoints enacted, and government parks and private reserves shuttered to all outside visitors, thwarting opportunities for would-be poachers. International travel restrictions have closed wildlife trafficking routes to China and Vietnam, the largest black markets for rhino horn.

However, as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions begin to ease in many countries, poaching is on the rise again and with widespread economic losses, more people may be pushed into rhino poaching. 

Africa

While planned rhino census operations have been postponed, the black rhino population in Africa has seen a small increase to 5 630 from 5 500 in 2019. Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley saw a 13.8% population growth during the first half of 2020. However, overall, this is no cause for celebration as the population was 65 000 in 1970. 

The white rhino population in Africa has been facing declines over the last two years due to poaching. The population is estimated to be around 18 000 animals and is likely to continue to drop this year.

900 rhinos were killed in 2018, nearly 1 every 10 hours. South Africa reported a drop in rhino poaching  from 319 animals in the first half of 2019 to 166 in the first half of 2020, presumably due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Kruger National Park’s Intensive Protection Zone reported zero poaching incidents in April, the first since 2007. 

Private reserves rely on tourism income and have had to make tough budget cuts due to the pandemic. There are worries that essential staff may have to be removed from the field. In response to emergency needs, the IRF established the Reserve Relief Fund to provide gap funding for salaries and equipment. More than USD$200 000 in grants have been awarded so far.

Asia

In Indonesia, fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos remain, having experienced declines of more than 70% in the past 30 years. Three small, isolated populations exist on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, plus a handful of animals in Kalimantan. The last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, Iman, died in late 2019. 

The government of Indonesia developed an Emergency Action Plan for Sumatran rhinos  in 2017. Going into its third year, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project, formed by IRF and partners, has initiated surveys in Way Kambas, Bukit Barisan Selatan and Gunung Leuser National Parks, as well as in Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo to identify isolated rhinos. The activities are part of plans to rescue rhinos and bring those with reproductive potential into large, semi-natural breeding and research facilities like the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas to increase population numbers.

The Javan rhino population, another species in Indonesia, increased slightly to 72 from 68 the previous year. Javan rhinos are found only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, where they are heavily protected. There has been no poaching in the park in more than 20 years. 

Illegal fishing and lobster trapping in the protected waters of Ujung Kulon represent both a threat to habitat and the potential that poachers may make their way to the beaches of the park which are frequented by rhinos. To prevent this, a marine patrol was launched in January. In the first six months of operations, the two marine patrol units apprehended 45 boats and 218 people illegally encroaching in the park.

As the Javan rhino population increases, expanding their habitat will be a major concern. Habitat management projects are ongoing in the Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area of Ujung Kulon, including the removal of the ubiquitous Arenga palm, which opens up corridors for rhinos to move to different areas of the park and promotes new growth of food sources.

In India, two greater one-horned rhinos were translocated to Manas National Park in March before COVID-19 lockdowns were in place. The transfer was part of the India Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV2020) program established in 2009, bringing the population in Manas to 41 animals. Unfortunately, the final translocation planned for late spring was postponed. IRV2020 was scheduled to wrap up this year, but review and planning meetings have been pushed back. The greater one-horned population has been steadily increasing to more than 3 600 in India and Nepal from 100 animals in the early 1900s. Nepal has postponed a census of their rhinos to 2021.

Strict protection by government authorities and forestry officials in India has resulted in several years of poaching declines. There were only three recorded losses in Assam in 2019 and just two incidents so far this year. However, the monsoon season this year in Assam brought intense floods to the Kaziranga National Park (KNP). 18 rhinos died and hundreds of other wildlife perished during the floods. In response to the widespread devastation and loss, a proposal to build more artificial highlands in KNP has been pushed forward by the government. 

You might also like: World Rhino Day: Two New Javan Rhino Calves Spotted, Bringing Population to 74

Assisted Reproduction Technology Advancements

In August 2019 a team of scientists in Germany harvested eggs from the two remaining female northern white rhinoceros, artificially inseminated those using frozen sperm from deceased males and created two viable northern white rhino embryos. With support from the Kenyan Government, the procedure was repeated in December 2019, and was able to create new embryos at Avantea Laboratories in Italy. This significantly increases the chances of successfully producing offspring.

The research is part of an effort to save the subspecies from extinction, as well as advance the science of assisted reproduction technology (ART) as a tool in conservation. Preparations for the next steps are underway with the plan to select a group of southern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy from which a female could serve as surrogate mother for the northern white rhino embryo.

Recommendations

The report outlines the following priorities for all five species of rhinos:

  1.   Bolster anti-poaching activities
  2.   Maintain intensive monitoring and active management of wild populations in the face of revenue losses, employing conservation breeding where needed
  3.   Work with local communities to ensure they are active participants in wildlife conservation and receive economic incentives that improve livelihoods
  4.   Governments must commit to enforcing their wildlife crime laws and commitments to international treaties to foster more effective international collaboration on investigations to address the entire criminal supply chain, particularly in Asia

Poaching remains the largest threat to rhinos’ survival. A decline in the price for rhino horn, trending downward since 2015, has unfortunately not disincentivised poachers.

Nina Fascione, executive director at IRF, says, “Declines in poaching during the global pandemic, gives us hope that a stronger commitment by governments in enforcing wildlife crime laws can break up large criminal syndicates involved in poaching, allowing rhinos to maintain steady populations gains. Together, we can ensure these marvelous creatures can thrive for future generations.”

 

In celebration of World Rhino Day on September 22, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has announced that the world’s only remaining population of Javan rhinos has increased to 74 individuals in Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP), following the sighting of two new calves.

The current count is the result of data collected through the end of August by park officials and represents an increase from 72 individuals reported in the last survey. Ten years ago, there were fewer than 50 Javan rhinos in UKNP, but with the park’s conservation efforts, the rhino population has been gradually increasing with at least one new calf every year since 2012.

The new calves spotted are one of each male and female. The male has been named Luther and the female was named Helen. There are now 40 males and 34 females in UKNP.

Javan rhinos, one of five rhino species worldwide, are found only in Indonesia’s UKNP where the population appears to have stabilised, largely because they are guarded by Rhino Protection Units (RPUs). There has been no poaching in UKNP in more than 20 years. 

You might also like: Mass Elephant Die-Off Mystery Solved- Botswana

Cameras positioned throughout the park, part of a monitoring program funded by the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), capture rhino movements and assist in tracking new births for population counting. 

Nina Fascione, IRF’s executive director, says, “Photos and videos of Javan rhinos are rare, but this year has been unprecedented with this being the third amazing video released. New births and the increasing population of this critically endangered species is the result of the commitment of government and park officials to the protection of the Javan rhino and its habitat.” 

She adds, ““World Rhino Day is a day we come together around the world to celebrate rhinos with awareness, education and critical support.”

See the video of the two new mother and calf pairs here

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

Rhino poaching in South Africa fell by 53% in the half of 2020, owing partly to COVID-19 travel restrictions and lockdowns in the country that have hindered poachers and international smuggling rings. 

According to Barbara Creecy, the minister of environment, forestry and fisheries, during the first six months of the year, 166 rhinos were poached in South Africa, compared with 316 in the same period of 2019. Creecy says, “We have been able to arrest the escalation of rhino losses.”

The ministry owes its success to slowing the rate of poaching to a decade of strategies and supply chain disruptions stemming from travel restrictions during the country’s national lockdown from COVID-19. However, the ministry warns that as lockdown restrictions have been gradually eased and game parks reopened, so too has rhino poaching slowly increased. 

From when a lockdown was implemented on March 27 until the end of June, 46 rhinos were killed across the country, according to the ministry. 

South Africa has for years battled rhino poaching. In 2019, poachers killed 594 rhinos and in 2018, 769 rhinos were poached. There is still high demand for their horns in Asia, mostly coming from China and Vietnam, where the horn is used in traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or a status symbol. It is normally sold in powdered form and is touted as a cure for cancer and other diseases, despite being made of the same substance- keratin- as in human fingernails and hair. 

You may also like: China Bans Wildlife Trade: Will it Work?

The trade of rhino horns may be curbed in Vietnam as the country recently banned the import and trade of wildlife as well as wildlife products, and announced a crackdown on illegal wildlife markets. The country is hoping the ban will reduce the risk of future pandemics such as COVID-19. China also banned the consumption and trade of wildlife in February, however animal parts may still be used in medicine. 

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