February 12, 2003
What you first notice about Danny and his friend is their size.
They are huge, and surprisingly nimble and graceful in movement.
No, not sumo wrestlers, but rhinos.
Danny and Hector are white rhinoceroses
at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a community conservation project, near
Serowe in central Botswana.
They are two of a herd of 21 rhinos currently in residence at the
reserve, alongside a range of other animals imported onto the land.
These include hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, eland, gemsbock
and springbok, to name but a few.
Named after Khama the Great, a
wildlife enthusiast and revered one-time ruler of the Batswana
back in the 1880s (whose grandson,
Sir Seretse Khama, became independent Botswana’s first leader),
the rhino sanctuary is partly funded by the UN Global Environment
Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme.
Kicking up a little
dust, and stamping gently, to show the visitors just who is in
charge, Danny and his playmate then proceed to ignore
binoculars, whirring cameras, oohs and ahs and gasps of admiration.
the young bulls, like most male rhinos, are instinctively territorial,
says Bathusi Letlhare, the chief warden at Khama,.
To mark their
patch of ground, the rhinos repeatedly defaecate in a specific
area and spray urine and scrape with their horns
to warn off would be intruders, namely other bull rhinos.
They can mark territory every hundred yards up to 5 kilometres," says
Letlhare, but the rhinos only allow other males of their species
to transit through their stamping ground if they need access to
a watering hole.
Over at the 'boma’(a Swahili word borrowed
from Kenya, meaning animal kraal or homestead) is Chinga, also
nervously staking out
some space. She is the new girl on the block and is about seven
years old. Chinga takes her name from the area of Botswana where
she was found and is the latest arrival and addition to the crew
at Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Chinga is also the exception at the reserve,
indeed in the country.
Unlike Danny and Hector, she is a prized
black rhino and the only one of her kind currently (legally) in
Botswana, said Letlhare,
the head ranger at the sanctuary. He reckoned Chinga probably came
from across the border from South Africa or from the Chobe National
The reserve's original batch of five white rhinos arrived
at Khama sanctuary in 1995. Their southern neighbour provided another
and another 3 joined the breeding herd in 1998. 11 rhino calves
born in the next five years made Khama home to the largest white
rhino population in Botswana.
They may technically be black or white,
but to the casual observer, Danny, Horace and Chinga all look grey. "Sometimes
they take the colour of their last wallow or the colour of the
are in," Letlhare said laughing. It depends on whether they
have wallowed in black mud or white sand or red earth!
rhinos are bigger than their black counterparts and weigh more,
between 1600 to 2000 kg. And in the rhino world, your colour
matters. If you are black, you fetch more money, Letlhare told
a group of journalists from United Nations radio, and an allAfrica
reporter, during a visit coordinated by the UN Development Programme.
He said each white rhino sold for up to 100,000 pula (over US$18,000)
in the local currency. People pay up to double that figure for
a black rhino, and anywhere up to 300,000 pula.
White rhinos are
'grazers’, eating grass. Black rhinos are
'browsers’, consuming tree leaves and they have what Letlhare
described as "narrow, prehensile lips for nibbling shoots
Clearly suspicious of a bus full of tourists, and
warily watching developments beyond the confines of her 'boma',
Chinga makes as
if to charge the gate which is fashioned from solid tree trunks
and bolted down with hefty nails. Ominously dipping and raising
her mighty head and curved horn, as if poised for a 50 metre dash,
she suddenly changed her mind and posed for the clicking cameras
instead. Letlhare is hoping they will soon get a black rhino mate
for her from South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Were it not for Khama Rhino
Sanctuary, these giant herbivores might have become a thing of
the past in Botswana and relegated to the
natural history books.
Years ago, as a boy, the warden reminisced,
he spotted a black rhino about 20km west of Serowe. He put the
population of rhinoceros
back in the 1960s at "probably 500". By 1990, a wildlife
census found only six rhinos in the wild, in the Chobe area of
This country used to have lots of both black and white rhinos,
particularly in the northern part of the country, in the Chobe
area, in the Delta and even in the eastern part," said the
head ranger. "But due to over-hunting and poaching, the rhinos
came close to extinction. The communities here decided to put up
this project and the main participating communities are from Paje,
Mabelapudi and Serowe. We felt that it would be a good thing to
set up a safe place for rhinos here. That is why we have this project."
said it was worth noting that, "of the five rhinos
originally captured in Chobe and brought here, one of them came
[wounded] with poachers’ bullets! When the Wildlife Department
was tracking it to catch it, poachers were actually tracking it
from the other end. It didn’t survive and died a few weeks
after its arrival here."
The attraction and reported medicinal
properties of rhino horn make it a much desired commodity, especially
in the Far East. Powdered
horn is popular to combat "asthma and other ailments," said
Letlhare. In parts of Yemen, he remarked, rhino horn is prized
for use in the elaborate dagger handles.
The chief warden added
that the rhinos and other wildlife at Khama were all especially
brought to the sanctuary. The native animal
residents of the reserve are kudu, duiker (both kinds of buck)
and brown hyena.
Letlhare was keen to stress that "an important
thing about this project is that we don’t only conserve rhinos.
We have also reintroduced other species that used to occur here
were actually driven out or hunted to extinction in this area.
They were driven away because of human population pressure and
Newer additions to the sanctuary include
giraffe, eland, gemsbok, wildebeest and impala. Waterbuck have
recently been reintroduced.
There are also predators such as leopards and wild dogs at Khama. "And
we have sighted even the cheetah here," said Letlhare. "We
have other smaller predators like jackals and caracal and African
In the next five years, Khama Sanctuary should
reach its maximum carrying capacity of 30 white rhinos and hopes
then to begin reintroducing
them into the wild.
The reserve has another string to its bow. Khama
is currently running an environmental educational programme and
is busy constructing
an instruction facility, funded by the European Union.
underscored the importance of education at the sanctuary. This,
he said, offered great opportunities to local and international
groups of school children and created environmental awareness,
while contributing to biodiversity in Botswana.
Sixteen local people
are employed at the sanctuary from neighbouring villages. There
is also a market for handicrafts produced in the
area as well as other parts of Botswana, which Letlhare called
a "bonus for communities in this country".
also encouraged. About 8,000 visitors pass through Khama Rhino
Sanctuary each year, generating enough continuing income
to cover staff salaries, maintenance, vehicle repairs, borehole
And security is tight. An electric fence and security
towers, as well as motorised patrols and patrols on foot and
are an essential part of the running of the reserve. Staff
are expected to be alert and, so far, there has been no successful
poaching at the sanctuary.
All this may be lost on Chinga,
Danny and Horace as they continue to enjoy the benefits of a
privileged life at Khama,
in mud and showing off their magnificent horns, unaware
that their presence in Botswana now seems secure, thanks to projects
the Khama rhino sanctuary.