We are excited to share with you that the remaining rhino, who were being cared for in enclosures since their arrival from South Africa in September, are now roaming freely! Over the last two days the six critically endangered eastern black rhino, which include four females and two young bulls were fitted with transmitters and the doors to the wide-open spaces of the Serengeti were (very strategically) opened. These transmitters allow us, and our government partners in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, to track and record the location of each animal on a daily basis. Using Vulcan’s EarthRanger, a data visualization and analysis software for protected area management, the location of the rhino is captured daily and logged into this system, allowing the teams to coordinate the best possible security and monitoring for the animals. Of the six that were released, certain rhino received state-of-the-art transmitters which feed into the system in real time. This very new technology gives management the ability to have eyes on the rhino at all times.
Years of planning, a multitude of partnerships, high costs, lots of infrastructure, security and technology developments have gone into making this release possible. A much-needed boundary road was constructed last year and is now being coupled with a rhino fence which extends across a critical portion of the boundary, protecting people and rhino from coming into contact (this will also serve as protection for the local communities from elephants notorious for raiding crops). Several monitoring teams are deployed to check on the rhinos daily and the imminent arrival of an airplane will allow our eyes and ears to see and hear more than ever.
Working with rhino is complicated and there are lots of moving pieces. With the release of the rhino, two critical elements of this project now stand out above others: security and partnerships. We are extremely fortunate to have an experienced and multi-faceted law enforcement department that combines critical boots on the ground knowledge with technology that is crucial in protecting rhino. This includes an intelligence unit, a special operations group, a canine unit, a mobile patrol unit, rhino monitoring teams, observation posts, scouts stationed in the bush, and an aerial support team to name a few. However, rhino are unaware of boundaries on a map. To them there is no distinction between the contiguous protected areas of Singita Grumeti and the Serengeti National Park. This means that it is imperative that we work in close collaboration with both our government partners here. Tanzanian Wildlife Management Authority, and those in the Serengeti National Park (TANAPA, Frankfurt Zoological Society). It is without doubt that we will see movement of rhino between protected areas. Since the first three rhino (two bulls and one cow) were released several weeks ago this movement has already begun to take place. This is positive movement and one of the main aims of the project, but it takes massive coordination between the various groups to ensure that when animals move between these areas that the people on the ground are communicating and that the technology is communicating so that the rhino continue to be protected to the highest level.
The newly released rhino are now occupying a similar range as the first three and for the time being will likely make their territories all within the Singita Grumeti concessions. This established breeding nucleus will ideally start to drive the growth of the local population and genetic diversification as rhino start to move between territories and breed with other rhino from other satellite populations in the Serengeti – Mara ecosystem.
There are three species of black rhino in Africa – eastern black rhino, southern black rhino and desert black rhino. In Tanzania the resident species is eastern black rhino. The IUCN writes that “between 1960 and 1995, large-scale poaching caused a dramatic 98% collapse in numbers.” Since 1995 eastern black rhino numbers have been increasing in the Serengeti. The Grumeti Fund’s Black Rhino Re-establishment project is multi-phased, aimed at introducing a new founder population (15-20 rhino) to this area. Since September 2018 we have introduced 10 new rhino to the ecosystem (one female, Laikipia, has been on site since her translocation in 2007) and released nine as free-ranging in the Serengeti ecosystem. Looking ahead into 2020 our aim is to complete the introduction of the founder population and to release Eric and Laikipia out of the Rhino Intensive Protection Zone and into the wider Serengeti ecosystem.