The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have embarked on a relocation programme that will see the critically endangered black rhino reintroduced to Samburu ranges 25 years since the last individual was poached in the area.
At least 20 preselected rhinos will be moved from Lewa, Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks to a sanctuary within the community owned and operated Sera Community Conservancy in an exercise scheduled to last 10 days. Two rhino have already been successfully moved and released to their new home by mid-day Monday (May 18, 2015).
This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly threatened black rhino, signalling a mind shift in Kenya’s conservation efforts. This pioneering move demonstrates the Government of Kenya’s confidence in the local community, and materialises the promise to support community-based conservation initiatives as provided for by the new Wildlife Act, 2013.
It is expected that the presence of black rhino in Samburu County will be a significant boost to tourism in the area whilst providing new job opportunities for local communities. Parts of the Sanctuary will also be set aside for dry season grazing for local herders, and the community look forward to increased overall security in the area.
The candidates earmarked for translocation range from six and a half years to 20 years old. Candidates are meant to reflect natural demographics and encourage natural breeding conditions. All animals will be fitted with satellite-based transmitters for close monitoring. The community rangers have been trained by Lewa and KWS in data gathering, anti-poaching operations, bush craft and effective patrolling – and will have the back-up of the Lewa and KWS Anti-Poaching Units.
According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature, populations of the Eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) plummeted by 98% between 1960 and 1995 primarily as a result of poaching and hunting.
However, conservation efforts have managed to stabilize and increase numbers in most of the black rhino’s former ranges since then. Kenya’s population has increased from 381 since 1987 to a current estimate of 640. It is projected to rise significantly in the near future especially with growing partnerships between government, communities and conservation organisations. It is hoped that the new rhino sanctuary will benefit Kenya’s black rhino population.
Sera Community Conservancy, established in 2001is a member of NRT umbrella. It is governed by a council of elders, an elected board of trustees, a management team and the residing communities which include the Samburu, Rendille and Borana.
The translocation exercise is jointly supported by Samburu County Government, USAID, The Lundin Foundation, San Diego Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, Tusk Trust, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Zurich Zoo, and several private philanthropists.