The start of 2024 brings another crucial step towards safeguarding rhino populations in Kenya, a mission we find very important here at Tsavo Trust. On January 16th, the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife began the process of translocating 21 black rhinos from Nairobi National Park, Ol Pejeta, and Lewa Down to Loisaba Conservancy.
Rhino translocation has become a crucial tool in conservationist’s arsenal, helping safeguard vulnerable populations. However, it is a massive logistical undertaking that demands considerable planning. This article will delve into the reasons behind rhino translocation and highlight the processes involved as dedicated teams transport these massive mammals to new areas of Kenya.
How does translocation help rhino conservation?
Translocation involves taking rhinos from areas with robust populations to regions where rhinos historically existed, and has several advantages for both the new area and the old.
Firstly, given that rhinos are territorial creatures, conflicts can arise when a population reaches its carrying capacity, often resulting in deadly clashes. With an already scarce black rhino population in Kenya, ensuring their safety, even from each other, is very important.
Many of Kenya’s 16 rhino sanctuaries are facing issues as their populations reach their ecological capacity. With no available space for individual rhinos to move into, conservationists aim to reduce the risk of competitive mortality by translocating individuals to other conservancies, such as Loisaba.
Secondly, introducing rhinos to new areas helps spread the risk to the animals by diversifying their habitats. Essentially putting multiple eggs in multiple baskets. Concentrated populations are vulnerable to interspecies competition, disease spread, drought, and various other factors. By dispersing healthy populations throughout Kenya, they can thrive in multiple diverse habitats.
Kenya is committed to preserving its rhino populations. Due to historical poaching, black rhinos were on the brink of extinction, with only 348 individuals remaining in the late 1980s. As of the end of 2023, the Kenyan black rhino population has surpassed the 1000 mark.
Dr. Alfred Mutua, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, emphasized Kenya’s “dedication to these majestic creatures”, stating that “Kenya is the third-ranking country globally for black rhino conservation”.
Dr. Mutua, however also stressed the need to “remain vigilant”, as rhino poaching remains a “dynamic” and real threat. Although Kenya recorded a zero poaching year for rhino in 2022, in some parts of Africa, rhinos are still regularly poached for their horns. South Africa lost 231 rhinos to poaching in just a 6 month period between January and June 2023, a significant number considering the estimated global rhino population is only 27,431.
How do you translocate rhinos?
Transporting 21 heavy and aggressive creatures is a substantial challenge that demands extensive cooperation and planning.
Firstly, experts conduct a rigorous audit of the new environment, assessing habitat suitability, law enforcement, disease, local and political support, among other factors.
Loisaba, having been home to rhinos just 50 years ago, is deemed suitable for supporting a healthy black rhino population. The conservancy has allocated 29,000 of its 58,000 acres for the rhinos, implementing tight security measures for their safety.
The challenge of moving the animals involves a dedicated team of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials, veterinarians, and rhino experts. The animals are captured, loaded onto crates, transported swiftly and safely, before being released into managed and secure bomas.
This operation is not without its risks and requires meticulous planning to prevent harm to the animals, a lesson learned in 2018 when 11 rhinos lost their lives during a translocation operation.
The number of rhinos needed for a healthy population to flourish is also important. Translocating 21 unrelated individuals from different areas of Kenya gives the budding population enough genetic diversity to cope with Loisaba’s new environment and conditions.
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary
Here at Tsavo Trust we will continue to protect and support the native black rhinos that call Tsavo Conservation Area their home. Specifically, through the work done at the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary where rhinos are monitored and protected. The sanctuary also gives a great opportunity for visitors to see these majestic creatures close-up while raising money for rhino conservation.
KWS research suggests that Kenya needs to reach a population of 2000 black rhino’s to ensure that the species can survive the threat of poaching, climate change, disease and loss of habitat. With the introduction of rhino’s into new protected areas where they can thrive, combined with ongoing protective measures, such as Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, and sustainable tourism, Kenya in on the right track to reach this goal and safeguard the black rhino population.