The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
As the region that possesses the rhino population with the farthest reaching genetic pool, the protection of rhino in KwaZulu-Natal is of critical importance to ensure the viability of future rhino population growth efforts in South Africa. This, coupled with an unabashed passion for conservation and the protection of our country’s natural heritage, is what drives the men and women of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo) to take on the battle against wildlife crime with unwavering dedication.
In 2014, Ezemvelo received approximately R26.8 million (€1.7 million) from Peace Parks Foundation’s (PPF) Rhino Protection Programme (RPP) in support of developing relevant resources and skills, and finding innovative and sustainable counter-poaching solutions over a 5-year period. The RPP is implemented under the auspices of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in partnership with South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo, and is made possible through funding from the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries as well as other private donors.
Rhino poaching is a criminal act perpetrated by well-organised international syndicates, who are well-resourced and run established illegal wildlife, human and drug trafficking networks across the world. Gaining ground against the onslaughts of such syndicates, requires well-planned, multi-faceted strategies that will keep conservation agencies one step ahead of the poachers, and be operationally sustainable, so as to deliver results over the long term.
With this approach in mind, Ezemvelo has, only 18-months into receiving the initial funds, already forged ahead with the testing and roll-out of a comprehensive suite of projects aimed at enhancing staff capacity and capabilities; improving protected area security and support; implementing effective rhino asset management; as well as augmenting rhino veterinary support and rhino orphan care.
According to acting CEO of Ezemvelo, Dr David Mabunda, coordinated efforts across all of Ezemvelo’s rhino reserves are critical to avoid merely displacing criminal activity from one protected area to another: “The projects initiated through the Rhino Protection Programme are assisting Ezemvelo in standardizing and upgrading our counter-poaching efforts at a provincial level, in line with our broader strategy to manage the rhino population for the region in partnership with both private and government entities – building a unified line of defense against the onslaught of wildlife criminals in our protected areas.”
Training and skills development
Security and Protection
Improved gate access control is being rolled-out that will increase surveillance and identification capacity at reserve gates. This information will be used to assist investigations, as well as provide alerts on high risk visitors and vehicles, thus increasing the chance of known suspects being apprehended when attempting to enter the park.
New guard observation towers are being placed at strategic positions in Ezemvelo rhino reserves to allow for more effective monitoring of high risk entry points and monitoring of wildlife.
Veterinary and Rhino Orphan Care
Resources have been provided to strengthen the capacity of Ezemvelo wildlife veterinary teams to treat the rhino that survive the brutal attacks by poachers. These resources also assist veterinary staff in processing crime scenes for the purposes of evidence collection and tactical research.
New capacity and facilities have been put in place to rescue, care for, rehabilitate and release the increased number of rhino orphans.
Said Werner Myburgh, CEO of PPF: “Developing innovative technology solutions to help conservation agencies stay one step ahead of poaching syndicates, is one of the primary focus areas of the multi-faceted Rhino Protection Programme. In rhino reserves with large numbers of known rhino populations, such as those managed by Ezemvelo, early warning and rapid response tracking systems can offer comprehensive protection capabilities, augmenting the abilities of well-trained staff on the ground, and making it almost impossible for poachers to successfully strike as incident alerts are triggered and can be responded to instantly.”
There is much still to be done, but this is not a battle that will be won overnight, nor through the quick deployment of critical resources to gain short-lived successes. Ezemvelo treasures every one of its rhinos – not only for their role in maintaining biodiversity, or their contribution to viable ecotourism, but because the people of Ezemvelo believe in the intrinsic value of animal life and their hearts break at the cruelty with which these gentle prehistoric giants are being eradicated. Ezemvelo is committed to finding effective and sustainable solutions to counter illegal poaching – to the benefit not only of the survival of the rhino population, but also to protect all other species suffering under the threat of wildlife crime, for the foreseeable future.