The second quarter of 2018 has been exciting for the rhino monitors. Poster and his teams are constantly busy in the field patrolling and keeping watch over the relocated rhino.
MONITORING TEAM UPDATE
The monitors continue to work tirelessly, patrolling daily and collecting excellent information on the rhinos and their health. The work is gruelling, and the passion of the monitors is laudable.
We must also thank the Botswana Defence Force for imbedding Rhinos Without Borders with soldiers, who patrol with the monitors for the safety of the rhinos and the monitors. The soldiers are accommodated in the RWB camp, and we have an excellent relationship with them. The DWNP anti-poaching unit also provides us with law-enforcement capabilities, if and when we come across any illegal activities in the area. We are very grateful to the Botswana government for their excellent and ongoing support.
MONITORING VEHICLES AND AIRCRAFT
Rhino Conservation Botswana continues to be a strong partner in our efforts, providing us with vehicle support, sharing workshop space, and a mechanic that keeps our fleet of monitoring vehicles running smoothly and in the field. We were also happy to add another monitoring vehicle to our growing fleet this quarter. This patrolling vehicle helps ensure our field monitors can cover as much ground as possible and respond to any potential situations quickly.
Our monitoring aircraft, “The savannah”, is doing a lot of work helping locate rhinos that are inaccessible to the ground vehicles. When the annual floodwaters reach certain areas of our operations, aerial monitoring is our only option to survey the rhino in these areas. The savannah has flown 43.5 hours over the past two months, conducting the fence-line patrols, visiting the northern camp and monitors, tracking rhinos and assisting with the darting operations. The aircraft is flying beautifully. Recently we removed the doors on the Savannah to increase visibility.
A few days ago I flew the Botswana Defence Force Major, who flies the military C130 Hercules, to check an airstrip. I think he now prefers the Savannah to his rhino-carrying plane!
In addition to the annual floodwaters, there has been extensive burning occurring over the past two months. These fires, many of which are man-made, are illegal and often are left to burn for weeks at a time. Unfortunately when areas are burned too often there are significant ecological impacts to the flora and fauna. The types of plants growing in these areas changes to that of more “fire-resistant” varieties which do not contain the same level of nutrition as other plants. Thus when fires occur too often, animals leave the areas both to escape the flames and smoke, but also in search of better grazing. We have observed these effects through our monitoring efforts as the rhino respond to the flooding and fires through their movements.
TRACKING COLLAR REPLACEMENTS
In the last quarter, we replaced collars on 17 animals, 11 bulls and 6 cows (VHF and/or satellite transmitters). We have been working closely with Rhino Conservation Botswana in these events and have received invaluable logistical support from them. Dr. Hofmeyr (Great Plains Conservation) and Dr. Comfort Ngowe (DWNP) has been directly involved in all of the darting operations, resulting in problem-free immobilisations and safely re-collared rhinos. We have also darted some of the older calves in order to ear-notch them for identification purposes. We have had a very healthy calving rate in the rhinos that have been introduced into Botswana. Happy calves make a happy population!
Sven Bourquin, PhD
Rhinos Without Borders: Monitoring Coordinator