Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Down to their last five rhinos

Down to their last five rhinos


Saturday, October 23, 2010

With numbers of black rhino declining to a critical level as a result of poaching, ranchers in Zimbabwe’s midlands have put aside historical differences in an effort to protect their wildlife reserve’s most valuable resident, writes BILL CORCORAN 

MIDLANDS BLACK Rhino Conservancy, in Zimbabwe, is a wildlife reserve under siege by poachers. Its most valuable resident, the black rhino, is on the verge of being wiped out by their illegal activity, with only five animals left from a stock of 34 that roamed the 660sq km area less than five years ago. From the wire snares set near watering holes to the scorched earth left by the bush fires started to cover their tracks, evidence of the poachers’ presence is everywhere, says conservator David Strydom, the man who has the task of protecting the conservancy’s wildlife.

“Times are hard in this country, so local people are willing to risk poaching even though they know my men” – he has nine rhino monitors – “are armed. In August we arrested 18 poachers and shut down a meat-selling ring in Kwekwe,” he says, referring to the nearest main town. “Throughout the conservancy in the same month we uplifted 536 snares, so there is still a lot of poaching going on of all the animals despite our efforts to protect them. Only recently two people came to our house to try and buy rhino horn,” Strydom says in exasperation.

Over the past few years poaching has increased rapidly here because of the political and economic crisis that has undermined law and order and left more than 80 per cent of the population unemployed and desperate.

To make matters worse, allegations that members of the security forces and senior political figures are behind some of the main poaching rings are increasingly being made by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, an umbrella group for wildlife organisations.

The authorities are unwilling to put an exact figure on how many rhinos are left in Zimbabwe, in case the information aids the syndicates that sell the animals’ horns in southeast Asia for as much as €50,000 per kilo. All they are willing to say is that the number is well below 1,000 and that 20 years ago there were more than 3,000 rhino in Zimbabwe.

Until recently the scale of the poaching at the conservancy matched what was going on at a national level, but an unlikely alliance between the ranchers whose combined lands form the wildlife reserve has led to a reversal in that trend since 2008.

Of the 16 white-owned ranches that were joined together in 1987 to create the conservancy, most are now in the possession of beneficiaries of President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land-reform programme, which began in 2000. The remaining ranches are still owned or leased by white Zimbabweans, and some of these people have lost farms or private game reserves in other parts of the country under the same system.

One might think that the often violent land evictions of that period might compromise the ability of the two groups to work together today. But rather than let the past harden their attitudes towards each other, the remaining white ranchers and their new black neighbours have banded together in an attempt to revive the conservancy’s fortunes.

One of the conservancy’s new additions is Sailas Chaduka, a former assistant police commissioner who secured his ranch within the conservancy through Mugabe’s land-reform programme. “Two years ago the conservancy was about to collapse,” he says. “But a few of us got together and we managed to mobilise the black and white stakeholders and formed a new management committee. We are genuinely working together. As a new black conservationist I am learning about my environment for the first time from my white colleagues, who have experience, and I appreciate this.”

According to the conservancy’s chairman, Garrett Killilea, all the current ranchers concluded that the only way to save their black rhinos and other wildlife from poaching was to move on from the past and work together.

“The people of Zimbabwe need to work together to make a better future, and we at the conservancy believe in that,” he says. “To that end we also need to include the local community and the national parks if we are going to ensure our survival. The long-term security of these animals, and the natural environment as a whole, lies in uplifting and educating the community. Fortunately we have the Sebakwe Conservation and Education Centre near to us, and in 2008 over 2,000 children stayed there and learned about their environment and the animals. No other conservancy in Zimbabwe has education facilities for the community. They are, in general, in private hands and may even be externally controlled. The Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy is for ordinary Zimbabweans, and we want to keep it that way.”

Although working on a shoestring budget supplemented by donor support, the new conservancy managing committee has been able to stem the loss of its rhinos to poaching since it took over, two years ago, using a mix of approaches to tackling its adversaries. The latest antipoaching tactic, deployed towards the end of last month, took the form of a rhino-dehorning programme involving the police, the national-parks board, the ministry of agriculture’s veterinarian unit and the conservancy’s ranchers.

Between September 17th and 19th the group managed to locate five black rhinos using a combination of trackers on the ground to pick up their trail and a fixed-wing aircraft that flew low to scan the area for the trackers. When a rhino is spotted a helicopter is called in and a vet tranquillises the animal with a dart. Once it has succumbed to the sedative the animal is dehorned with a chainsaw. The horns are then handed over to the authorities, which put them into storage.

Conservationists hope that this process, which removes the valuable part of a rhino, will deter poachers from making further attempts to target the animals. But David Strydom of the conservancy says this drastic action does not always have the desired effect. “The poachers often just shoot dehorned rhino if they find them anyway, so as to ensure they are not led on a long chase for no reward at another time,” he says.

Even if the conservancy does manage to protect its five rhinos – two females and three males – more problems are waiting on the horizon. For the species to thrive in the conservancy a herd of 20 is needed for breeding. Anything less and the gene pool is too small for healthy reproduction, so new animals need to be introduced. But at almost €90,000 apiece they don’t come cheap.

Poaching’s rise in southern Africa 

Rhino poaching in the wildlife areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe has increased dramatically in the past few years. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature Zimbabwe lost 235 rhinos to poachers last year, while South Africa, which until recently was the most successful country in Africa in conserving endangered rhino populations, lost 122. By early last month South Africa had lost, to date this year, a further 182 rhinos. In the whole of 2007 the country lost only 17 rhinos to poachers.

Although rhinos are still tracked on foot by many poachers, a more sophisticated criminal has entered the arena, using high-tech equipment, from helicopters to night-vision goggles, to target rhinos on well-protected game farms.

Last month the South African authorities claimed to have recorded a significant success against well-funded crime syndicates, with the arrest of 11 people suspected of poaching rhino in Limpopo, a northern province. The alleged syndicate included professional hunters, two vets, a pilot, a game hunter and a businessman.

One of the accused, Dawie Groenewald, the 42-year-old behind Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, has already been banned from operating in Zimbabwe by authorities that believe he is connected to the illegal activity there. According to local newspaper reports he was sentenced and fined in the US in April in connection with a leopard trophy illegally hunted in South Africa and exported to the US.


Survival in the wild

Survival in the wild  Sunday Mail 13/10/2019   Phineas Chauke IT is not called wildlife for nothing. Life in the wild is not only survival

Read More »

ZimParks, IFAW in conservation deal

ZimParks, IFAW in conservation deal Herald 3/10/2019   Elita Chikwati and Ellen Chasokela Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) on Monday signed a Memorandum

Read More »

New Posts: