Tsavo West NP Black Rhino Program
Kenya’s Black Rhino Program was launched in 1984 at a time when Kenya’s black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) population had plummeted from an estimated 20,000 in 1970 to less than 300 individuals. Since 1989, Kenya’s rhino population has been successfully managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as a metapopulation (as one, not as individual populations).
40 years on, this Program has been a remarkable success, especially when compared with other black rhino programs across Africa. This is partially attributed to the Program’s multi-sector approach, which brings together the government, community, and private sector to collaborate on a common goal.
Today there are just under 1,000 black rhinos in Kenya (80% of the michaeli sub species) within either free-ranging populations or living within fenced sanctuaries.
The normal population increase rate of a stable black rhino population is between 5% and 9% each year. When a population begins to reach its maximum ecological carrying capacity, this rate drops because of slow breeding and increased fighting, which leads to an upturn in mortality (essentially too many rhinos in a confined space where social challenges hinder rhino recruitment rates). Currently 6 out of the 8 fenced sanctuaries in Kenya are carrying more rhinos than their habitats can sustain and are registering a drop in their population increase rate.
Across the country at least 50 black rhinos are born every year and require space as they develop to maturity. Small sanctuaries that take in rhinos help diversify the risk by “keeping the eggs in as many baskets as possible”, but the reality is that more than 50 rhinos need a new safe home each year.
The Tsavo West NP Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ), spanning 3,000km2 provides an ideal large space for free roaming black rhinos in a prime National Park managed by the KWS. This is a rare and unique size in todays “rhino world” where space for wildlife is becoming increasingly scarce. Kenya remains one of the few jet strongholds for Eastern black rhino which makes this population globally important if we are to significantly increase this critically endangered species. This same space was arguably the most densely populated black rhino habitat on the planet before rampant poaching decimated this population 5 decades ago. It is estimated that this Tsavo West IPZ can carry at least 500 black rhinos (nearly 10% of the world’s total black rhino today).
With the recent history of successful of rhino conservation in Tsavo over the last 4 decades, the future of Tsavo West NP rhino program can be significantly enhanced through upgrading with further investment and support, to a level where this rhino population and National Park could become a leading example and major achievement for rhino and Kenya, as a flagship conservation area of global importance.
Photo above shows the scenic vista of Rhino Valley in Tsavo West NP, in the centre of the 3,000km2 Intensive Protection Zone. An area that can be home to at least 500 black rhino if this project is given significant support and time to build. Tsavo Trust is playing a key role in this activity to support the Kenya Wildlife Service.
As a strategic objective in the Recovery and Action Plan for Black Rhino in Kenya (2022-2026), it states: “To expand existing rhino areas and secure new areas for rhino population
expansion” and that Tsavo West IPZ is a top priority site and urgently in need of “Fully operationalising Tsavo West IPZ”. Kenya’s long-term vision and goal is “to have 2,000 eastern black rhinos by 2037 and 1,450 rhinos by Kenya’s Vision 2030, as a global heritage”.
Tsavo could make this very possible.
KWS / Tsavo Trust partnership in Tsavo West NP Rhino Program
The Tsavo Trust is a dependable partner for any current and future investment in the Tsavo West IPZ and has been collaborating with the KWS to support this process for the last 10 years and more recently partnered with Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI). Tsavo Trust has been endorsed by KWS as an official partner to actively fundraise and partner for this exciting rhino program. Investing in the security and park infrastructure will enable the IPZ to absorb most of Kenya’s excess rhinos born within the fenced and currently over stocked sanctuaries.
Above graph shows black rhino population trends in Tsavo and where this Key 1 black rhino population could potentially be by 2037.
Tsavo Trust: Bridging the gap:
Tsavo Trust and partners, led by KWS, have been playing a very significant role in “bridging the gap” between the current under-staffed, equipped, and resourced IPZ to the upgraded level that we aim to achieve over the coming years. The current annual support to KWS in the Tsavo West rhino range amounts to at least US$ 350,000 and these “bridging the gap” activities through Tsavo Trust over recent years includes:
- Regular aerial patrols with 2 Super Cub aircrafts equipped with telemetry (24 hours per month). TT aircraft have flown 1,393 hours covering 158,802 kilometres over the last 5 years in TW IPZ
- Building infrastructures: NRS Base office block, IPZ Base, Old Chyulu Gate, 5 Ops
- Deployment of 4×4 vehicles (2) for rhino monitoring
- Purchase of 4×4 vehicles (2) donated to KWS IPZ security
- Purchase of a tractor, trailer and 3,000ltr water bowser for ranger outpost water delivery
- Deployment of 3 anti-poaching teams (Tembo 3, 5 & 9) in Tsavo West all with 4×4 vehicles. Joint TT / KWS teams have made 779 arrests over the last 5 years (many of these are in and around the TW IPZ)
- Construction of 8 sand dams for sustainable wildlife water sources
- Rhino horn transmitter & ear notching exercises in IPZ (35 rhino to date), ongoing
- HWC mitigation: 32km elephant fence, vehicle & team to support KWS PAMU
- Equipment donations to KWS: 300 camera traps, fuel (diesel & Avgas), telemetry equip.
- Annual NRS rhino ID night census funding support
- Aerial census support Tsavo wide
- Bringing on board community stakeholder partnerships through Kamungi Conservancy
There is no doubt that without this continuous and meaningful operational funding support to KWS to uphold rhino conservation efforts in Tsavo West IPZ and NRS, there would remain significant gaps and the prospect of looking ahead to the longer-term plan of Tsavo West IPZ full upgrade would not be as advanced and understood as it is today. The groundwork has been laid for the far wider total IPZ upgrade to now be implemented.
Tsavo Trust, alongside KWS, WRTI and various supporting partners, both local and international are on a collaborative pursuit to raise considerable funding to address the vital cores needs identified by Tsavo West NP management and key stakeholders through the “Needs Assessment” to upgrade this IPZ over the next 5 years. Tsavo Trust has official endorsement from KWS to steer this fundraising process on behalf of the Tsavo West NP and we are energetically moving this process forward through developing key partnerships and fundraising actions.
Current partners in the Tsavo Rhino Program include: Kenya Wildlife Service; Wildlife Research and Training Institute; Tsavo Trust; USFWS Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund; Wildlife Conservation Network / Rhino Recovery Fund; WildLandscapes International, Re:wild, Zoological Society of London; various foundations and individuals. Tsavo Trust is actively seeking like-minded conservation partners to roll out this greater plan and to boost rhino numbers in Kenya and specifically in the Tsavo West NP’s IPZ.