Translocation, translocation, translocation
(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, spring 2010. Author: Tony Fitzjohn, Field Director, George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust)
In May 2009, we took delivery of three black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. A translocation such as this takes at least two years to organise and prepare for. Logistics, practical preparations, bureaucracy, transport and funding have to run simultaneously with preparation of the rhino to undertake the journey. The rule of thumb is that nothing can be left to chance at any stage of the game.
We are fortunate enough to work with arguably the best rhino vet in the world and his team. Dr Pete Morkel has been involved in the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary since 1993, both in surveying and assessing the area, advising on its construction, carrying out the first translocation of rhino from Addo National Park in South Africa and attending to the growing population of rhino over the past 13 years. He and I have notched up many years working together in the field and in the air.
Dr Dana Holeckova, the Director of the Dvur Kralove Zoo, had worked closely with Dr Hamish Currie of Back to Africa and selected Mkomazi as the destination for these rhino. Their tireless efforts in promoting and helping fund this translocation were admirable. Suzuki Rhino Club in The Netherlands agreed to support, organize and fund the translocation, most significantly the transport on a Martinair 747 aircraft.
Save the Rhino and Chester Zoo responded immediately to our cry for help, covering the international flight and visa costs for Pete Morkel.
The physical hard work in the field was carried out by Semu Pallangyo (Rhino Sanctuary Manager) and his team, with back up from GAWPT’s personnel and equipment. Elisaria Nnko and Wilfred Ayo, our Tanzanian Trustees, also played a key role in the translocation. Elisaria had to spend nearly four months in Dar es Salaam trying to get the revenue authorities to allow the rhinos into Tanzania free of import duties. Overall, that is a very small team of dedicated people who were able to carry out a massive translocation.
The safety of the rhino once they arrived back in Africa was a priority throughout the translocation process and continues to be a priority today. Now that poaching, with ever-better armed and aggressive poachers, is on the rise again, security remains paramount and systems have to be maintained to the highest level. As reported in the last issue of The Horn, The Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary is 45 sq km with 31 kms of 10-foot electrified and alarmed fencing, patrolled by armed guards, fence gangs, mobile anti-poaching gangs and trackers. We have also built peripheral security outposts which are manned by armed guards. The fence is built along standard specifications both to stop rhino from breaking out, but also to stop armed poachers from breaking in and to protect the dedicated personnel who risk their lives every day to protect these animals.
When the Czech rhinos arrived at Mkomazi, their keepers Berry White and Honza settled them into their new lives and trained Emmanuel, Evans and Penieli in zoo techniques on caring for them in the compounds. They were then introduced into ever-increasing-sized paddocks until they settled into their own large sections. Pete Morkel returned to fit telemetry transmitters into their horns.
The three rhinos have been at Mkomazi for nearly a year now and they have adapted to their new lives well. We supplemented their feed with lucerne, horse-nuts and carrots during the prolonged dry season, whilst they adapted to the conditions and the vegetation. We now only give them carrots and they are thriving on the browse. Tsetse targets were set up every 200m in a 2km radius by Dr Idrissa Chuma of TANAPA (Tanzanian National Parks) within and around their sections, to allow them a gradual adaptation to the tsetse fly.
We have recently had to construct a second, third and fourth separation fence to keep a resident bull (James) out of their section. He had worked out how to weaken the fence posts and then pull them down with his horn without giving himself an electric shock on his lip. Plans are underway to move the Czech rhino to another separation area further north in the Sanctuary.
And just as we are drawing breath from this translocation, discussion is now underway to bring in more rhino to add to the Mkomazi population. We are very grateful indeed to Save the Rhino and Chester Zoo, which support the general running of this Rhino Sanctuary, the systems, the personnel, the security of these animals and great undertakings such as a translocation.
We are delighted to announce that a calf born at Mkomazi in August 2009 to Lee, one of the original four females, has been named “Maggie”, after Chester Zoo’s Education Programmes Manager, Maggie Esson, who has done so much for Mkomazi’s education programme, Rafiki wa Faru.