Plans to boost black rhino numbers

Like in most countries within Southern Africa, Botswana’s rhino population was decimated by rampant poaching in the early 1980s.

The country started building its herd from zero to the current 103 with just seven animals.

Zimbabwe this month donated one rhino from Imire Game Park in Marondera, to Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe.

The animal, according to Botswana’s National Rhino Co-ordinator Ms Mercy Munyadzwe, will join a lone female rhino at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

“We feel honoured to have this rhino donated to us by the Government of Zimbabwe. This is going to further strengthen our co-operation,” she said.

Munyadzwe said the relationship that exists between her country and Zimbabwe in the wildlife sector cannot be underestimated.

She said Botswana’s stakeholders in the wildlife sector were arranging further negotiations with Zimbabwe to help them boost the breeding population of the endangered species.

“We would like to get 10 more black rhinos, if it is possible. We have entered into negotiations with other countries, including Namibia from where we received four black rhinos,” Munyadzwe said.

She said Southern Africa should work together and help boost the region’s rhino population, which before it was declared endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), was vulnerable to both commercial and subsistence poaching.

Currently under CITES, no country is permitted to either hunt or trade in black rhino products, which are still in high demand in Asia and Europe.

Zimbabwe ‘ whose rhino population stands at slightly above 800, 500 of which are white and 300 black ‘ is also in the process of rebuilding its population.

Until recently when the country concentrated the endangered species into four intensive protection zones (IPZs), rhinos were hunted down by international poachers for their products.

Although the government, which is now responsible for the rhinos, has created the IPZs, nine black rhinos were poached at Midlands Conservancy this year.

In October last year, five black rhinos were killed at Gourlays Farm in Matabeleland North Province before more than 200 were translocated to various conservancy areas on a temporary basis.

Several other rhinos are dotted around Gonarezhou National Park (which is a part of the Limpopo Transfrontier Park), Bubi River Conservancy, Matusadonha in Kariba, Sinamatela and Matopo.

Munyadzwe said the region needed to strengthen its security measures if it is to achieve boosting the rhino to a significant population.

“Poaching of the black rhino has also been our major challenge. We have held various meetings at regional level to see how best we can protect our wildlife resources,” she said.

The region is also battling to see how best it can approach the wildlife-based land reform, which will see a great number of locals participating in conservation issues.

There is need to approach this new system carefully without exposing wildlife to dangers of poaching.

South Africa’s Limpopo Province, which is also in the process of rebuilding its rhino population, last week held a wildlife expo from which it needed to create partnerships and learn from other countries on how best many players could operate in the wildlife business.

Zimbabwe boasts of a vibrant wildlife sector with many players from various classes owing to its new wildlife policy which encourages indigenous people to venture into that sort of business.

Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources director Mr Charles Jonga said the Limpopo Wildlife Expo unravelled some of the challenges the region faced and chief amongst others, the need to work together towards in protecting endangered species such as the black rhino from poachers.

“Poaching of the black rhino is of major concern. We need to work together if we are, as a region, going to boost the rhino population and achieve trading in rhino in future years,” Jonga said.

He said the whole region’s wildlife sector was focusing on protecting the endangered black rhino and also the elephant, lion and python.

“The protection of the black rhino is a major issue in the region because our populations were greatly reduced in the 1980s. We now need to enhance our security of the parks and of the region as a whole.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), more than 50 black rhinos have been poached in Zimbabwe alone since 2002. Four poachers were killed in 2002, when the problem of poaching of the black rhino worsened in Zimbabwe.

In June that year, incidents of South African “sport” hunters who were involved in the illegal slaughter of black rhinos in the southern part of Zimbabwe were reported.

The regional representative for WWF in Southern Africa then, Mr Harrison Kojwang, called for prompt action by both Zimbabwe and South Africa to deal with cross-border hunting forays by readily identifiable hunting parties.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe’s black rhino population fell from about 2 000 to 370 due to commercial poaching perpetrated mainly by gangs from across the northern border.

It further fell to slightly above 300 mainly owing to ineffective conservation measures that further stimulated poaching. Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officials said they were trying to enforce regulations which will see them regularise operations and only consider serious safari operators in their hunting concessions.

Parks public relations manager Retired Major Edward Mbewe said although Zimbabwe had come up with wildlife policies that encouraged indigenous people to participate in wildlife farming, only those that were serious in protecting the animals would be considered.

“We are concerned about the continued illegal hunting of the black rhino and are in the process of visiting all conservancies to see what they are doing to strengthen the security of all animals and in particular the black rhino,” Mbewe said.

He said the authority would not hesitate to cancel leases of those who found to be not abiding by set lease conditions.

August 2006
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