Rhinos Without Borders: Quarterly Update

Dr. Sven Bourquin

The first three months of 2018 have been a very busy period for Rhinos Without Borders. With the rains, the rhinos tend to move to use of the grass flushes that follow. There have been several long-range movements of animals, resulting in the team having to recover them. These operations have involved long days and nights, and a great deal of logistical planning!

Our monitors continue to do a fantastic job monitoring the rhinos, often under very difficult conditions. From the beginning of 2017 to present, we have not had a single rhino poaching incident. During that same time period South Africa has lost over 1,000 rhinos. Our mandate continues; to move rhinos out of areas where they are heavily exploited into the safe haven of Botswana. In addition to not losing any rhino to wildlife crime, the relocated rhinos through Rhinos Without Borders are experiencing very healthy reproductive rates. We love seeing the population of rhinos grow, literally, and all of the calves that are born have been doing very well in this protected environment.

Monitoring Update

The quality of monitoring provided by Rhinos Without Borders is unparalleled. 282 individual sightings of rhinos since the beginning of 2018 in the southern portion of our area alone! In the northern area, our monitors are seeing an average of 9 rhinos per day, amounting to roughly 792 sightings since the beginning of the year. Those numbers are very impressive.

The difference in sighting between the north and the south is due to the fact that the “northern section” rhinos are in a much more constrained area that remains accessible to our monitors at all times.

This type of monitoring coverage in Ngamiland cannot be matched. In addition, the patrols in the south respond decisively to poaching events. These incidents have been, for the most part, related to commercial poaching of game meat (aka “bush meat”) and don’t involve rhinos.

The Savannah ultralight aeroplane continues to patrol the areas that are inaccessible to vehicles, along the southern foot and mouth disease cordon or “buffalo fence”. I have flown 30.1 hours, this year, conducting 2,250 miles of monitoring patrols and providing aerial support for the re-collaring activities that we undertook in February.

Our monitoring team campaigned strongly for the fence line to be maintained in order to keep cattle (and with them, possible poachers) out of the wildlife management area (WMA) that is contained within the fence. Our efforts have been rewarded hugely with a much reduced cattle population in this vulnerable area. The fence line not only forms a solid barrier, stopping cattle from entering the wildlife management area, but also prevents the rhinos from leaving the safety of the WMA where the chances of encounter with potentially harmful circumstances is markedly increased.

Unfortunately with great regret, we lost a colleague in South Africa recently who was a very experienced Savannah pilot. Mr. John Waterson died whilst piloting another Savannah aircraft. His contribution to our work and conservation in general will be missed.

Monitoring Collar Operations:

We have replaced collars on 10 rhinos, 6 cows and four bulls that are frequently moving near the fence line, and/or are breeding females. These darting events require a great deal of planning to ensure the safety of the rhinos, and we are very fortunate to be able to have Dr. Markus Hofmeyr on our team as the Chief Conservation Officer (Great Plains Foundation.) He exemplifies all of the characteristics that make a great veterinarian and we have managed to process all of the animals with a minimum of stress.

Thanks to sheer experience in dealing with these animals, in the majority of cases, the rhinos wake up from the anaesthesia and proceed to graze as if nothing happened. The rhinos are immobilized very quickly – normally going down within 8-10 minutes of darting from the helicopter, and being fully awake again within 30 minutes.

While doing this, we are collecting morphometric information and carefully fitting the monitoring ankle collars. If we have an animal that has not been recorded previously (i.e. was born in Botswana), we also put individual ear notches into the ears, insert micro-identification tags, and take genetic samples for the rhino database.

Conclusion:

All of the rhinos are flourishing in this rainy season; the condition of all of the rhinos is outstanding.

Thank you to all of our beautiful, amazing donors for your continued support. Without you, we would not be able to continue with our efforts in conserving and building our rhino population in Botswana. We will carry on with our unrelenting efforts on your behalf, and on behalf of Botswana!