Rhino rescue in Kruger National Park - South Africa
A rhino capture team at work in Kruger National Park - preparing a black rhino for translocation to Botswana.
OPERATION: STOP POACHING NOW PROGRAM IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
Southern Africa is in the midst of an unprecedented poaching crisis. Driven by ever-increasing demand from growing Asian markets (particularly in China and Vietnam), poachers are killing three or more rhinos per day in southern Africa. Poaching syndicates, mostly based in Mozambique, but some within South Africa, are well-equipped, highly-organized and dangerous – they use helicopters, machine guns, veterinary immobilization drugs and other sophisticated methods to stalk rhinos.
By the end of 2016, 1,054 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa alone. About two-thirds of the killing has taken place in Kruger National Park, which shares 221 porous miles of its 621-mile border with Mozambique. However, as Kruger as ramped up its security, poachers have turned to other targets within South Africa, such as KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape Province, as well as to neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Since 2012, IRF raised more than $750,000 to provide much-needed funding to high-priority anti-poaching projects in southern Africa. IRF has awarded several grants from OPERATION: Stop Poaching Now to critical projects in South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, while also translocating rhinos to a new site in Botswana under a separate initiative.
In an effort to protect and increase the world’s black rhino population by moving animals from a high-risk location to a new, safer area, in March 2014, IRF and partner Wilderness Safaris secured six black rhinos from South Africa’s Kruger National Park for translocation to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The group included one adult male, one pregnant adult female, two sub-adult males and two sub-adult females. An additional 14 black rhinos were captured in South Africa’s North West Parks from in late May/early June and have subsequently been transported and released in the Delta. This second group included six males and eight females, from 1.5 to more than 10 years of age. With the exception of one bull lost to fighting, all animals are doing well, and are fitted with radio transmitters and tracked regularly. Additional animals are still being added to this population through other partners.
Great Fish River Nature Reserve covers some 46,000 ha (113,668 acres) of prime shrubby rhino habitat, which holds a growing population of black rhino that must be protected at all costs. IRF’s grants have helped to build and equip three new guard post in areas where it was previously difficult for staff to operate because of a lack of accommodations, and has provided a secure digital communications system for the Reserve.
In Phinda Nature Reserve, also an important rhino area, IRF has funded a rapid response team that can preemptively respond to ever-increasing poaching incursions. Funds have also strengthened relationships with local communities, a valuable source of information that can help to avert poaching. IRF has also provided a secure digital communications system for the Reserve, supported enhanced security at reserve entry points, and have supported the hiring of 18 guards from local communities to assist with Reserve protection.
IRF contributions have provided core support for StopRhinoPoaching.com, a South African organization that focuses on rangers, anti-poaching units, security, and managers, and that strengthens regional security and investigations. IRF also supports Operation: Embrace through StopRhinoPoaching.com, a ranger well-being program in Kruger National Park. The program provides voluntary counseling for rangers who have been in front-line encounters, and also provides support for their families, who often live in the same communities as poachers and are physically and verbally threatened.
Sharing a border with Mozambique, Swaziland’s rhinos are constant targets for heavily armed poaching gangs. IRF support has helped to engage local communities to help head off poaching incursions. In 2016, IRF provided an emergency grant to Swaziland’s Big Game Parks to purchase hay and lucerne for rhinos whose areas were particularly hard-hit by the recent drought.
In Gonarezhou National Park — a site where we hope a black rhino population will soon be re-established — we purchased a new digital radio system to enhance security for the park — a key element in preparing for a rhino reintroduction.
Part of dealing with the poaching crisis involves reducing demand for rhino horn in consumer countries. We have provided several years of support for Education for Nature–Vietnam on public awareness campaigns to discourage consumption, including rhino-focused Public Service Announcements, TV and radio advertising campaigns to encourage the public to report rhino crimes through a toll-free hotline, as well as outreach to government and the business community.
Photo courtesy Internation Rhino Foundation