By Polycarp Machira
Tanzania is facing possible extinction of the black rhino, now among the most critically endangered animals, The Guardian On Sunday can report. Decimated by illegal killings, the endangered rhino is increasingly under attack from poachers using high-tech technology.
Tanzania is home to more than 127 eastern black rhinos, which live alongside some 60 southern central black rhinos (Diceros bicornis minor), according to a 2009 census report prepared for CITES.
In 2010, the Tanzania government had plans to increase rhino populations through several foundations, among them, the Serengeti Black Rhino Repatriation Project sponsored by the US-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nduna Foundation, the Wildlife Without Borders and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The project was aimed at protecting five eastern black rhinos translocated from South Africa four years ago, but poachers have since killed two of them commonly known as ‘JK rhinos’.
The number of the animals continue to drop further following the killing of another rhino about two weeks ago, whose carcass was found in Moru in the Southern section of the Serengeti National Park.
Speaking to The Guardian on Sunday this week, National Rhino Coordinator Joas Makwati said the government was committed to protecting the rhinos, and that the animal which belongs to ‘the big five’ attracts many tourists into the country; the rest are the lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo.
“Tanzania joins the rest of African countries in protecting the endangered animal,” he said. According to the country’s five-year plan, the animal population is likely to increase further though it may not reach the record population of the past five decades.
Tanzania was home to many black rhinos in the 1960s which suffered from ruthless poaching between the 1970s and late 1980s. From the 1990s, the country declared war against poaching in order to conserve the few remaining animals and increase genetic diversity.
Three translocations of black rhinos between 1997 and 2001 involved ten animals from South Africa, two of which were reintroduced to the Ngorongoro Crater and eight to the Mkomazi Game Reserve.
In 2007, two black rhinos from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, UK, were introduced into a sanctuary adjacent to Ikorongo-Grumeti Game Reserves; and three black rhinos from the Czech Republic were sent to the Mkomazi Game reserve two years later (2009).
Another translocation began in May, 2010 under which 32 black rhinos were to be translocated into the Serengeti ecosystem, to which some five rhinos were airlifted.
Mr Makwati added that the government’s firm commitment to the conservation of the few remaining black rhino was clearly demonstrated in the 2010- 2015’ plan.
Protection and security
He noted that security of the rhino population needs to be strengthened through increased ranger forces dedicated to monitoring security systems in specific areas through informed patrol deployments based on analysis of patrol logs and sightings of rhinos and signs of illegal activity.
Further measures will also involve improved rhino sightings and legislative reforms, all aimed at minimizing illegal activity, appropriate management action, cooperative intelligence, detection, law enforcement, effective investigations and prosecutions, legislation and community support. More money, more problems.
Poaching of the rhino horn is a lucrative industry, with much of the loot sold to the affluent in Asia, particularly China and Vietnam where some people believe the horns can cure a series of ills, including cancer and hangovers, as well as boost virility.
A kilo of rhino horn fetches up to $20,000, according to a report by Moses Montesh, a criminology professor at the University of South Africa. A single horn weighs about 10kg (22 pounds).
Struggling to keep up
Organized crime syndicates are using military-grade helicopters, night-vision equipment and guns fitted with silencers, taking rhino poaching to a whole new level and leaving wildlife managers barely struggling to keep up.
Nations such as South Africa and Kenya have invested in unmanned drones, sniffer dogs and increased security, but have failed to halt the rising tide of rhino slaughter.
Like Kenya, Tanzania has also adopted use of micro-chips which help locate where the rhinos are at specific times; the devices also boost the ability of police to prosecute poachers or traffickers, allowing for all animals to be traced and providing potential vital information on poaching and smuggling chains.
“At least 20 rhinos in different game reserves and national parks were placed with microchips in a pilot project that began in 2012,” Makwati said. Evidence of poaching.
Once the systems are set up, every rhino nationwide will be traceable, providing investigators with evidence in cases of poaching and making it easier to prosecute suspects.
Rhino poaching soared by 43 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a worldwide network.
Last year alone, about 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa -- the highest number in two decades. Of those, a record 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone.
In South Africa, officials are dyeing rhino horns pink and tingeing them with nonlethal chemicals to discourage consumers from buying them.