Great Plain Conservation calls for public aid to relocate rhinos

2016-08-01 18:00 - Ra-ees Moerat
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Great Plains Conservation

The plight of Africa's endangered rhino's has seen a number of champions fighting and supporting this conservation effort, including Great Plains Conservation headed up by National Geographic Explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverley Joubert.

Together with AndBeyond, they have committed to relocating rhinos on a magnitude never done before - aiming to move no less than 100 rhino from South Africa where poaching is rife and releasing them into the wild within a country that has low densities of rhino and one of the best anti-poaching records on the continent - the safe haven of Botswana.

To date the team has moved 26 rhinos, has budget for 30 more but need to do a total of 44 to go to reach their target of 100 relocated rhinos.

Rhinos Without Borders - Ark of Rhino Genes

Speaking in an email update about the latest batch of rhino moved to Bostwana during July, Joubert says "A lot has happened in our Rhinos Without Borders project in the last few months. It really feels as though we are getting critical mass and establishing a routine."

In November 2015 the team moved a group of rhinos, which saw a tough relocation process as the location was changed at the last minute due to security concerns and very unseasonal heat hampered efforts too. 

"We had the usual run of permit issues and delays and while the three rhino arrived in time, it was later in the relocation that I had to make a call and divert the remaining rhino to a “safe house” in Botswana but not in the wild," says Joubert. 

Lesson: Moving rhino is the cooler months is better.

And as many know, this July brought with it a spate of cold weather making the latest attempt to move the rhino less problematic.

"Earlier, in April, Beverly and I spent a few days in a helicopter searching for rhinos that had failed or expired radios anklets. Two vets, who then proceeded to dart the identified rhino and re-establish ‘communications’ to those rhinos, joined us slightly later.

Joubert explains that capturing and relocating rhinos is a very technical and dangerous undertaking, since rhinos are very vulnerable to overheating and stress during capture.

"These magnificent animals are lumbering giants and it is a miracle that so far we have only had a collection of cuts and bruises, one cut eyebrow and a gashed hand but no injuries I would consider serious. I credit this to the professionalism of the teams we work with. Les Carlisle as project manager assembled his A team, one that has moved thousands of rhinos over the years." 

A very technical and dangerous undertaking

"It takes just the right mixture of anesthetic and timing, not to mention the skillful flying of the helicopter pilot and
aim of the vet, to get the rhino anesthetized in the correct position for loading," says Joubert.

"Once the rhino is down, a blindfold is quickly placed over the eyes, and the ears are blocked to limit stimulation and prevent the animal from waking up early and hurting members of the team. Measurements are then taken of the horns, legs and body.

"VHF and Satellite transmitters are fitted to the ankles so that the rhinos can be monitored once they are released, and identification tags are injected into the horns and neck of the rhino. Care of the rhinos in the crate is critical, and the vets have to be present at all times to monitor the animals and ensure their safety," says Joubert.

"We have also learned some new lessons. The November 2015 batch arrived in the bush where the heat was over 45 degrees centigrade.

"They struggled. As we offloaded them, it was into this blistering heat and hot sand. We had been asked to drop the rhino in a certain location and use trucks and drivers that may not have been up to speed with how to react under this sort of stress. We nearly lost a baby and female as they separated on release, but quickly made some on the ground calls and re-darted the female, reuniting them. They are doing very well one. 

Territorial fight sees one rhino die

" The location we released the rhinos into already had rhinos, and in my opinion, not ideal. Heartbreakingly, one bull we released walked into a territory of another bull who immediately tracked the new arrival, confronted and attacked him, resulting in the new bull dying of his injures."  

But Joubert remains optimistic.

"As winter sets in here in Botswana, and I look down at the tracks for signs of rhinos, I am filled with the satisfaction that we (collectively) are making this terrible poaching  situation of these two species better. Without our intervention, extinction is not just a threat, but also a very short-term reality. For that, we at Rhinos Without Borders, the Great Plains Foundation and I personally, thank you."

What lies ahead? The plan of the Great Plain Foundation

- The foundation hopes to increase the members of the Rhino Monitoring team to 20 men, having at least six vehicles operate between them.

- The foundation initiated discussions with SANParks on the relocation of a next batch. At the moment, the foundation can only afford to relocate 30 rhinos, considering the pledges, donations, budget and the exchange rates.

- The next project under consideration is to look after orphaned rhinos that fell victim to poaching. 

Great Plain Foundation prides itself in their efforts to combating the poaching situation and spreading the message of poaching not only being a threat, but a short-term reality. 

How can you help?

Rhinos without borders and Great Plain Conservation and Beyond joined forces to establish a project that translocated 25 rhinos to Botswana so far. The project still requires funding to reach the target of relocating 100 rhinos.

You can help by donating through Rhinos without borders or by completing the following pledge form: PLEDGE YOUR SUPPORT FOR RHINOS