Environmental News Service
March 4, 2002
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 4, 2002 (ENS) - Eight white rhinos
being moved to Kenya's Meru National Park from private game ranches
this week will not have to share the park with other rhinos. In
the late 1980s, all but one of the park's white rhinos were wiped
out by poachers seeking horns for the lucrative medicinal trade.
In 1989, the last remaining rhino was relocated to Lake Nakuru National
Park for its protection.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is teaming up
with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to relocate six white rhinos
from Solio Ranch in Laikipia and two from Lewa Downs Ranch in Samburu
into the park.
Meru National Park in northern Kenya is best known as the setting
for Joy Adamson's book "Born Free," the story of George
and Joy Adamson's life and research amongst the lions and cheetah
Straddling the equator and crossed by 13 rivers and many streams,
the park's terrain ranges from woodlands at 3,000 feet on the slopes
of the Nyambeni Mountain Range to open plains dotted with doum palms
along the riverbanks.
"With the restocking of key species such as rhino, Meru National
Park is now being given a new lease on life after almost all its
wildlife was wiped out by poaching and disease," said Michael
Wamithi, IFAW regional director for East Africa.
The translocation of these eight white rhino will help to rebuild
the animal populations that once inhabited the park.
IFAW will provide on-site assistance and has contributed almost
US$60,000 to the relocation. Some of the funds were recently used
to move 20 rare Grevy's zebras into Meru. The translocation of more
than 200 Burchell's zebras is planned for the park later in the
In recent years, Meru National Park has benefited from a massive
redevelopment project, with assistance from international donors
including IFAW, which has committed US$1.25 million over the next
five years to restore the park. The park's infrastructure has been
completely rebuilt, security improved, and Meru has once again become
one of Kenya's most popular tourist destinations where visitors
can see elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, and cheetah.
White rhino are viewed as one of Africa's greatest conservation
success stories. Poached nearly to extinction in the early 1900s,
careful conservation practices have increased the worldwide population
to 11,000 animals. Kenya now has about 170 in total, the majority
on private ranches, and about 45 in two nationally protected areas.
South Africa has the world's largest population of white rhinos
- about 9,750, with 2,000 of these in private ownership. But IFAW
is concerned that a new proposal by South Africa's Department of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism to establish a legal trade in
white rhino products could once again place the rhinos at risk.
The proposal states, "South Africa seeks approval to establish
a legal trade in white rhino products (excluding horn)... As rhinos
are not poached to obtain these products there can be no concern
that legalising such trade will adversely affect South Africa's
or other rhino populations."
IFAW sees this proposal as a first step towards seeking permission
to trade in rhino horn at a later date.
As funding for state conservation agencies dwindles, the South
African government and other supporters of its position on trade
in rhino products and other rare and endangered species say that
funds raised from the trade will be ploughed back into conservation
But IFAW says the move to open legal trade would increase the threat
to rhinos by masking the existing illegal market in rhino parts.
"It's astonishing to us that, in the draft proposal, South
Africa makes reference to the sale of rhino horn at a later date,
a proposal which has been dismissed for many years for very good
reason," says Jason Bell, IFAW's Southern Africa director.
"By creating a legal market for products in endangered species,
one merely encourages an illegal market that trades in products
from poached animals," he said.
The South African rhino trade proposal was drafted as a precursor
to South Africa's final submission to the meeting of the Convention
of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be held
in November. The agency has also approved in principle a proposal
for the sale of elephant ivory stockpiles, as well as increased
hunting quotas for highly endangered leopard and cheetah.
"The trades in ivory and rhino horn will have equally detrimental
effects on wild elephant and rhino populations in Africa and Asia,"