World Rhino Day is celebrated on September 22 every year. It creates an avenue for NGOs, zoos, wildlife conservation centres, research centres, and concerned individuals to unite and seek new ways to discourage poaching practices and preserve certain extremely endangered rhinoceros species from total extinction.
There are many challenges facing African rhinos today, but poaching is the biggest and most urgent.
A report released this year by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission estimates there are currently 22,137 rhinos in Africa: 6,195 black rhinos and 15,942 white rhinos.
The overall number has decreased 6 per cent from 23,562, since the last report in 2017.
The same year, African Parks together with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation reintroduced a viable population of Eastern black rhino to Akagera National Park, returning the species to Rwanda.
This was followed by an additional smaller group brought from European zoos in 2019, making Akagera’s black rhino populations one of the most genetically diverse of the subspecies in the world.
In 2019, another viable population of black rhino was translocated from South Africa to Liwonde National Park in Malawi in collaboration with the DNPW, WWF South Africa and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to boost both populations.
Also, in 2021, in partnership with RDB, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and &Beyond, African Parks translocated 30 southern white rhinos from Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa to Akagera National Park.
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According to Eugene Mutangana, Conservation Analyst at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the southern white rhinos are currently about 33 while the eastern black rhinos are about 30 hence the population is thriving.
“That is a success and we are so keen to keep monitoring the progress,” he said.
To protect and conserve the threatened species, Rwanda has involved Akagera National Park’s surrounding communities and shares with them 10 percent of revenues generated by the park.
Mutangana said the communities involved are represented at all levels and help in mobilising their neighbours and colleagues about conservation.
“It is through them that we were able to cap down poaching. Once poachers are educated and convinced, they are the same people who help you stop the young generation, neighbours and colleagues from poaching,” he said.
Drew Bantlin, Conservation and Research Manager of African Parks – which on behalf of the government, manages the park – also testifies that communities are vital to Akagera’s success.
“Poaching has also declined massively in the last 12 years. This is because of the communities who live adjacent to the park and their sense of pride for the protected area and its reintroduced species.
Without such support, projects like the major translocations would not have been possible. Further to this, the vast majority of park staff come from the local communities, further strengthening the ties between the communities and the park,” he said.
Commenting on the status of the translocated rhinos, he said that the conditions of the rhinos have all improved and they have established themselves in parts of the park with good grass and ample water.
He added: “Successful births and growing calves show that the female rhinos are finding enough nutrition to support milk production. All behaviours observed by the monitoring teams have been normal.”
‘Partnerships are key’
According to Ladis Ndahiriwe Park Manager of Akagera National Park, through strong partnerships such as those with the Government of Rwanda, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and &Beyond, multi-sector collaborations can help assist in the long-term conservation of endangered species and the ecological restoration of wild landscapes.
“This historic initiative was aimed at extending the white rhino range and creating a secure new breeding stronghold in Rwanda and supporting population growth to ensure the long-term survival of the species in the wild as high-levels of poaching continue to exert unsustainable pressure on current populations,” he said.
Ndahiriwe also noted that the aim of the translocation was also to help enhance Akagera’s contribution to Rwanda’s wildlife economy, ensuring that the conservation of their outstanding natural landscapes generates long-term benefits for local communities adjacent to the park and all Rwandans.
“Akagera has become a major wildlife destination. This year we’ve achieved a record number of visitors, returning the park’s income to pre-Covid-19 levels. At a community level, this has allowed creation of new jobs and increased income which has further increased the park’s contribution to the Rwanda Social Security Fund, Special Guarantee Fund, and community initiatives,” he said.
He added: “African Parks teams, across the 22 parks under our management, are dedicated to protecting and restoring threatened and endangered species, such as rhino. Since our start we have prioritised translocations of key species, into stabilised protected areas, where law enforcement, eco-system services and communities can support and ensure their long-term survival.”