Kenya’s rhinos: the good, the bad and the ugly

AMHRB97 Black rhino

Pastures new: black rhino at Lewa

It’s two years since we reported on ambitious plans to introduce rhinos to Borana Conservancy in Kenya’s Laikipia region, bucking the trend of many landowners who were removing rhinos in the face of poaching threats. Now there’s more good news: Borana and neighbouring Lewa Conservancy are dropping the fence separating the two properties, to create a conservation landscape of 93,000 acres of prime black rhino habitat.

It’s the first time two privately-owned organisations have undertaken such a move in Kenya, and the two conservancies have worked closely with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) under the country’s Conservation and Management Stratgey for Black Rhino. Borana received its founding population of 21 black rhinos in August last year, 11 of them from Lewa and 10 from Lake Nakuru national park. Together with Lewa’s existing healthy population, the new conservation reserve now has a combined population of 88 black rhino, and is predicted to top the 100 mark within two years.

ACPN09 Northern white rhino with armed guard

Late lamented: Suni (foreground) and Najim, under guard at Ol Pejeta

Sadly there’s also bad news from Laikipia: the death of Suni, one of only seven northern white rhinos left on earth that we wrote about here a couple of years ago. We visited Suni at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he lived under tight security with three other northern white rhinos which had been relocated from a Czech zoo in 2009, in the hope that more natural surroundings would encourage them to breed. The subspecies is extinct in the wild. Suni’s death at the age of 34, apparently from natural causes, leaves only one bull surviving. Hopes that the survivors will breed appear to be fading, but there is still a chance that one of the females may breed with a southern white rhino, thereby preserving at least some of the northern gene pool.

ACPP89 Anti-poaching patrol at camp, Chyulu Hills

Basic facilities: anti-poaching patrol camp at Chyulu Hills

And the ugly? Poaching incidents in Kenya continue to rise. The latest involved the death of three poachers ambushed by KWS as they moved out of the Chyulu Hills National Parks in the country’s south west. The poachers, armed with AK47s, refused to surrender when challenged, and all were killed in the ensuing exchange of fire.

The wild, inaccessible Chyulu Hills, with their dense bush and rocky terrain, are one of the most challenging areas to protect that we’ve visited. Anti-poaching units from the Big Life Foundation work with rangers from KWS under extreme conditions, rarely seeing the small, genetically distinct population of eastern black rhinos that live there. The latest incident brings home just what a dangerous job they face. Fortunately, on this occasion the poachers had been unsuccessful, and no rhinos were killed.

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