THE largest-ever relocation of black rhinos across national borders has established a breeding population in the Botswana’s Okavango Delta, according to Wilderness Holdings Ltd., a eco-tourism safari operator that helped organise the program.
The operation brought the animals from South Africa and Zimbabwe into Botswana’s inland delta area, where they died out two decades ago.
Rhinos, both the black variety and the bigger white species, are under siege from poachers in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where 749 of the endangered animals were killed in the first eight months of this year, equivalent to about 4% of the population.
As a member of the so-called Big Five game animals, they are a key tourist attraction. The other members of the Big Five are lions, leopards, elephants and buffaloes. Tourism accounted for 3,3% of Botswana’s economy and 4,6% of employment in last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
“Tourists are very keen to see both black and white rhino as they are both rare and endangered,” Kai Collins, Wilderness Safaris conservation manager, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Having rhinos back in the wild will assist the tourism industry as a whole in the Okavango Delta and Botswana.”
The operation, which included eight separate translocations, was completed in July, Collins said, declining to give the exact number of rhinos moved because of security concerns. Botswana has largely escaped the rhino poaching that’s widespread in other parts of southern Africa.
“Botswana can be a key player in rhino conservation in Africa by protecting significant populations of both species for future generations to come,” he said. “Now that we have a founder population, there is no need to necessarily bring in more as it is very difficult to add more black rhinos to a settled population as you will often have severe territorial battles.”
Wilderness operates 45 safari camps and lodges and 10 overland safari tours in Botswana, Congo Republic, Kenya, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The company employs 2600 people and its stock trades in Johannesburg and Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.
The original population of white rhinos came from South Africa, while the population of black rhinos is made up of animals from South Africa and Zimbabwe in order to maximize genetic diversity, he said. There is room for more white rhinos, he said.
Black rhinos weigh as much as 1.4 metric tons, eat foliage from trees and bushes and have a pointed upper lip. There are about 4800 in the wild. White rhinos, which graze on grass, weigh as much as 2,5 tons, have a square lip and number about 20000.
Currently 98% of the black rhino population live in four countries – Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Kenya – according to the African Wildlife foundation.
The first group of white rhinos arrived in November 2001, and later Botswana swapped roan antelope, which are scarce in South Africa, for white rhinos to bolster the population, Collins said.
The government has now taken steps to ensure the animals’ security. The Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism is trying to secure funds to establish a 50-man specialist “Rhino Squad” to patrol the area and protect Botswana’s rhino.-Bloomberg