By Carolynne Higgins
Despite media efforts to create global awareness and the implementation of stringent measures that were put in place to combat this ever-increasing ‘war’ on our rhinos, we are still in a state of a conservation emergency. We have the figures on paper and those passionate about saving our rhinos will continue to ensure the issue is not ignored.
There is another side to this heartbreaking scenario: how does poaching affect the behaviour and family dynamics of rhino herds? Do the rhinos feel the pressure they are under and, if so, how do they exhibit it? Jason Kipling, a ranger at Umkumbe Safari Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, helps us answer these questions.
I asked him to share his professional opinions about the increasingly noticeable changes in rhino behaviour patterns. These once-placid beasts seem to have become more skittish than ever when in the presence of humans, in every national park and reserve.
Q: Do you have any statistics about how many rhinos in the Greater Kruger region have been lost to poaching?
A: Unfortunately I don’t have the exact statistics, but I do know that South Africa as a whole has lost more than 500 rhinos already this year. That’s a substantial increase since 2007, when 17 where lost!
Q: Since the poaching endemic, have you noticed a change in rhino behaviour and dynamics?
A: Rhino dynamics and behavioural changes have become very evident to anybody who looks closely enough. I have evidence to prove this. On the Umkumbe property we have a unique situation: a 2.5 year old white rhino calf that lost its mother to poachers has been adopted by an older bull. A white rhino male will usually stay with its mother for five years (a daughter will stay for eight) and after that will pair up with another bull. (The young bulls roam as a duo for safety – at five years old they are still vulnerable to attack by lions.) But to see a male of this age with another bull is a first. We see them regularly and have even named them – Tom and Jerry. More....