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SOS Rhino : In the News : Project Black Rhino succeeds to restore endangered species

Project Black Rhino succeeds to restore endangered species
2004-11-23 07:09:34
By Emmanuel Chacha
Source: Guardian

More than 30 years ago, the world’s renowned conservator Professor Bernhard Grzimek wrote: "The only rhino species of which there are still large wild populations, is the African Black Rhino".

Way back in 1970 about 65,000 black rhinos were still living in Africa.

But the following 10 years witnessed the dramatic decline of the black rhino population in recent times.

According to the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), until 1980 poachers had reduced the population to 14, 785 rhinos.

About 77 per cent of the population in Africa were killed in only ten years! This is like from one hundred to zero in only few years.

It was only in the early 1990s, with only 2, 475 individuals left, when the fast decline could slowly be stopped.

An intense protection measures in some African countries at least started to make an impact and in the meantime the numbers of black rhino have slowly been increasing again.

FZS says based on a census study from 2001, rhino experts of the International Conservation Organisation assume that there are about 3,100 individuals.

The second African rhino species, the white rhino, has also suffered a lot in the past.

In contrast to the black rhino, which nearly disappeared during our generation, the white rhino was confronted with the same destiny mainly in the 19th century.

The big game hunters at that time were responsible for the near extinction of the once widely distributed Southern white rhino until the end of the century.

In the year 1895, only 20 individuals were left. Due to massive protection measures, breeding and reintroduction programmes, at least 11,000 individuals can be counted today, of which nearly 95 per cent live in South Africa, FZS adds.

Both white and black rhinos population were depleted because they were killed for their horns, skins and certainly their flesh. Their flesh was eaten, their skin tanned and their blood, urine and bones used as medication.

Joseph Loipukwe ole Kuwai, the FZS Director for Project in Africa, says following the problem, an immense logistic and financial commitment was necessary to keep such a heavily depleted species from going extinct on this planet.

He gives an example of Tanzania, which in 1974 about 700 black rhinos grazed the Serengeti plains.

By 1995 when the Rhino Project was initiated there were only three individuals left.

"Of about 100 individuals in the 1960s, only 13 were left in 1994 in the adjoining Ngorongoro Crater. You can see how the situation was deteriorating," he explains.

Kuwai says FZS started to invest heavily in the protection of the rhinos in Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in 1994.

About two million euro from the world’s known wildlife conservation organisation went into rhino protection in Tanzania.

Under the project monitoring of the rhino has been strengthened and afforded, anti-poaching units have been equipped and translocations were financed.

Translocations are very elaborate circle-exchanges in which rhinos from zoos or areas with enough individuals are brought to places where populations have become to small to survive on their own.

Dr. Pete Morkel, the FZS project leader at Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park, says the rhino rangers are permanently patrolling the crater floor with at least two vehicles and monitor the animals from several fixed observation posts.

"The rangers of the Crater Rhino Protection Task Force have been trained specifically for monitoring and protection of the Ngorongoro rhinos," the rhino ecologist and veterinarian notes.

At Moru, Serengeti National Park, the project has succeeded to restore the rhino population, thanks to constant surveillance and consequent shielding of the rhinos from tourism interference.

Visitors are only allowed to drive through the area on a few roads, Kuwai says.

Six years later the project was extended to Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya for protection and surveillance of the rhinos in the borderland between Tanzania and Kenya and protection of the wildebeest and zebra dry season habitat in the Serengeti ecosystem.

The rhino warden at Masai Mara, Samson P. Lenjirr, says the small population of 31 rhinos in the borderland between Kenya and Tanzania is daily monitored.

He commends FZS for its remarkable support for protection of endangered species, saying the long-term aim is to connect the Mara population with the existing Serengeti, Ngorongoro populations.

Ten years now after the commencement of project, a vital achievement has been recorded.

The population of the African black rhino, which was nearly led to extinction through intense poaching is now regaining.

Ole Kuwai says the number of the endangered black rhino has increased from 41 in 1994 to 64 this year in Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Masai Mara.

He explains that in Ngorongoro there were only 13 rhinos by 1994, Serengeti only 3 rhinos while in Masai Mara by 2000 when the project started there were 25 rhinos.

"Currently there are 19 rhinos at Ngorongoro Crater, 14 at Moru in Serengeti and 31 in Masai Mara.

Definitely without this project African black rhino could have perished," he insists.

Ole Kuwai noted that FZS spends about 230,000 Euro (230m/-) annually for the project.

The population of rhinos increases slowly because of their reproduction system that takes two and half years.

So one might note that the increase is low but rhino breeding is quite different from other species, Dr. Morkel clarifies.

Ole Kuwai maintains that FZS will continue supporting Rhino Project at Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Masai Mara following its tremendous success since its inception.

"This is a permanent programme. The populations of black rhinos was depleting due to poaching but after ten year of this project we have seen the number is increasing.

So we will keep on supporting it to make sure the population increases as much as possible," he says.

He notes that FZS supports the project one hundred per cent.

However, as these tremendous efforts by FZS have shown marvellous achievements that rescued African Black Rhino from extinction, some extra efforts should be done in shielding the animals from tourism interference.

While such a thing is constantly done at Moru, Serengeti National Park, there is traffic congestion by tourist vehicles at Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) that interfere and disturb the rhinos.

It is clear that rhinos are the major tourist attraction at Ngorongoro Crater but the Authority should control the number of vehicles allowed to visit the crater to reduce interference.

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