By Jeremy Hance
With its collapsed economy, entrenched poverty, and political tremors, one would not expect that a country like Zimbabwe would have the capacity to safeguard its rhinos against determined and well-funded poachers, especially as just across the border South Africa is currently losing over two rhinos a day on average. And indeed, without the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), rhinos in Zimbabwe would probably be near local extinction. But the LRT, which currently manages around 90 percent of the country's rhinos in private reserves, has proven tenacious and innovative in its battle to safeguard the nation's rhinos from the poaching epidemic.
"Since [2009\ the [Lowveld Rhino Trust\ conservancy populations have been rebuilt to a current total that once again is close to 400. Because black rhinos elsewhere in Zimbabwe have not shown this population recovery, the Lowveld conservancies have become the key populations for Zimbabwe," Raoul du Toit, head of the LRT, told mongabay.com. "However, the Lowveld conservancies are still subject to the political and economic turmoil that has afflicted Zimbabwe for over a decade and was not resolved through recent elections, so the situation for their rhinos remains precarious."
Long-considered a curative in traditional Eastern medicine—despite zero evidence—rhino horn is increasingly viewed as a status symbol among the wealthy in places like China and Vietnam, exacerbating the illegal trade. Poachers, who are often underpinned by organized criminal gangs and corrupt officials, have left thousands of rhinos dead in the past few years and dozens of wildlife rangers trying to protect the megafauna. In fact, as LRT has found, keeping rhinos safe today is a massive undertaking, involving not only high-tech monitoring and tracking of rhinos, but working with local communities and the judicial system. The result however has been that Zimbabwe has seen its rhino population rise since 2009, unlike many other countries worldwide.
"We try to maintain a situation in which rhinos can save themselves through effective breeding. More....