RHINO CONSERVATION BOTSWANA

Private Bag 14, Maun, Botswana
Tel: (+267) 7165 8686 or (+267) 686 0086

Rhino Conservation Botswana is registered as a trust with the Deeds office of Botswana.

BACKGROUND

The re-introduction of a small population of white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) as well as black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) into the Moremi Game Reserve over the last fifteen years has proven to be a considerable success with the white rhinos having increased significantly over the years forming a healthy stable population. This project was carried out as a joint venture between the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and Wilderness Safaris with major assistance from the Botswana Defence Forces who help with the provision of security for all wildlife throughout the region. The success of the ongoing project has now brought the glaring issue of monitoring for management and security clearly into focus and which now requires attention.

The IUCN/SSC Rhino Specialist Group states that “THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A GOOD KNOWLEDGE OF THE RHINO POPULATIONS WITHIN A RANGE STATE IS ESSENTIAL FOR THEIR MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION,” and Dr. Raoul du Toit who is an acknowledged expert on rhino management in the wild and who has performed several assessments of the rhino project in Moremi has written that “ IT IS WORTH STRESSING THAT A FUNDAMENTAL REQUIREMENT FOR RHINO CONSERVATION IS EFFECTIVE, CONSISTENT MONITORING.” The Rhino Management Strategy for Botswana has monitoring as a cornerstone of our national strategy as below.

OBJECTIVES
All rhino populations in Botswana will be adequately monitored to understand numbers, distribution and trends as a necessary basis for informed management actions and decision-making.

- Monitoring rhino allows population sizes, reproductive performance, mortality and home ranges to be assessed. This information provides essential information to inform biological management decision-making with a view to growing rhino numbers rapidly.
- The use of standardised age classes allows comparison of performance between populations and if also within a population over time. A number of performance indicators also help assess population performance in addition to changes in estimated numbers. 
- The assessment of rhino numbers allows progress towards meeting plan goals to be assessed. 
- Rhino monitoring can provide a useful audit function and early warning of possible missing and/or poached animals or reveal problems with demography. 
- The knowledge that a rhino population is being kept under close monitoring surveillance, so that any poaching will be quickly detected, can act as a deterrent to would be poachers.
- Law Enforcement monitoring can also help inform and guide rhino protection efforts.
- Monitoring has other opportunistic spin-offs (such as ear notching exercises providing opportunities to get samples for DNA analyses).
- Involving field staff in day-to-day ID based rhino monitoring can contribute to increasing their job interest, as well as raising awareness and interest in rhino conservation amongst staff. In other range states, routine rhino monitoring has helped contribute to building camaraderie among staff, and the feeling that they are part of something special.

DISPERSAL

The natural dispersal of rhinos is well documented and was expected of the rhinos on Chiefs Island. Over time, and with the growth of populations, young rhinos will spread out from the maternal home range and from the paternal territories. This dispersal can be very localised if habitats are available (water, food and shade) but some rhino can move considerable distances at certain times of the year. If the dispersal of an individual or, on occasion a pair of rhinos occurs during episodes of rainfall and the availability of good grazing is widespread, they may move over hundreds of kilometers if their passage is not interrupted by barriers such as fences or rivers.

In open systems such as the Okavango Delta rhinos tend to disperse on occasion and need to be monitored closely to ensure they remain in safe areas.

This goes to illustrate that the movement of all our wild rhinos need a high level of monitoring at all times to ensure that they do not move so far from safety and to allow for managers to intervene and to ensure the safety of these animals.

RHINO CONSERVATION BOTSWANA

Since the start of the Botswana wild rhino project in 2001, there has been a very small but extremely dedicated group of people involved in monitoring the rhino populations of northern Botswana. Two men from Wilderness Safaris have been the ‘backbone’ of this effort with considerable assistance from the Botswana Anti-poaching Unit (DWNP) and the Botswana Defence Force, both of whom supply men and equipment towards patrols. In recent times, the Botswana Defence Force has availed the use of one of their helicopters for both monitoring patrols and assistance with management. Between them, and under difficult circumstances given the increased flooding of the Okavango from 2009 to 2012 they have produced enough data to show a steady increase in the overall populations. They have also been responsible for reporting that many of the younger rhinos have moved further afield, particularly within the Okavango but also elsewhere in northern Botswana.

Rhino Conservation Botswana has been formed with a very clear mandate in mind. We will train and properly equip up to five new rhino monitoring teams and to outfit a centralized management and data co-ordination centre so as to ensure that all wild rhinos are regularly sighted and identified and that biological data is properly collected, collated, disseminated and stored. Information collected by these teams is also highly valuable to security agencies like the Botswana Defence Force and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks anti-poaching unit, in that they can plan their troop assignments.

The trust will also be able to support the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in the management of rhinos over time and during special operations. This will range from re-capture operations for rhinos which may have crossed a boundary into an unsafe area, capture operations for the fitting of electronic transmitters, ear notching or for trans-locations to other areas. For these purposes we propose the raising of funds towards the building and maintenance of rhino capture and transport crates, rhino bomas and correctly outfitted trucks for the purposes of the transport of crates and rhinos as and when needed.

Ultimately, our vision includes the increasing of aerial surveillance to support the monitoring teams Insert: in support of aerial monitoring by the Botswana Defence Force. Air support should involve the use of a light helicopter such as a Robinson 44 which has been extensively used by wildlife capture teams and experts throughout Africa as well as having access to a slow flying, light aircraft. Having been involved in the rhino project for the last ten years, and we now know that the use of aircraft is indispensible.

The Rhino Conservation Teams will work extremely closely with the DWNP anti-poaching unit as well as the Botswana Defence Force as this work must be integrated in the interests of rhino conservation for the nation.

In fact, we envisage that every team will have a integrated make-up of monitors and security personnel as is the case today, making a strong and organised patrol the order of the day.

All data will be collated and shared with the Directorship of the DWNP and with the National Rhino Co-ordinator as outlined in the draft Rhino Management Strategy for Botswana. As has been agreed by the Botswana Rhino Management Committee, any samples collected in pursuance of DNA data will be transmitted, identified and stored as part of the Central Database and Studbook for southern African Rhinos. The genetic profiles will assist with the overall aims of rhino managers and national authorities of producing a comprehensive database of all rhinos in the region. At all stages the co-operation of regional wildlife authorities and park managers will be nurtured and sought so as to ensure that everyone is involved in the care of these precious national assets.

ELECTRONIC MONITORING

The current rhino project has been using various electronic devices to track rhinos and which, since the beginning of the project have supplied both monitors and managers with incredibly valuable data on the movements of rhino after their release.

Electronic tracking devices often have a lifespan of 2-3 years and need to be removed and re-fitted every so often in order to keep the batteries fully operational.

Fitting of tracking devices requires expensive, helicopter borne operations and the immobilization of the rhino.

Rhino Conservation Botswana will be raising funds for the deployment of tracking devices on rhinos as possible. We know that this will aid the field-based teams in the physical location of the rhinos when required.

This ensures that monitoring will be of the highest international standards and will enable regional and international rhino conservationists to make informed decisions regarding the management of these important populations.

We regard the deployment of, and the use of electronic tracking equipment as an important cornerstone of the work of Rhino Conservation Botswana which, although it will never replace the physical finding and inspection of the rhinos, will greatly enhance the efficiency of the field teams.

If and when the programme has access to regular helicopter and fixed wing monitoring, the use of these transmitters will also improve the time spent in the air and again, enhance efficiency.

PARTNERSHIPS AND ENDORSEMENTS

Rhino Conservation Botswana is very much private sector driven, but we realize that to succeed in our vision, we will need to partner with other organizations as well as the various government departments and agencies involved in rhino conservation. The Botswana Rhino Management Committee will also have to be kept updated and informed at regular intervals as to the progress of population performance. We will also seek funding opportunities from regional and international conservation organizations with an interest in rhino conservation. We have a strong belief that the combination of security being provided by the Botswana Defence Forces, political leadership in conservation from the highest office and a vigorous private sector effort will lead to Botswana being a major range state for both southern white rhino and south central black rhino within the next twenty years.

Thank you and onwards,

Martin (Map) Ives
Director – Rhino Conservation Botswana
Telephone (267) 72658686
mapi@wilderness.co.bw

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