Tools of the trade

(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, autmn 2009. Author: Richard Bonham)

The Chyulu Hills National Park, Kenya extends to the north of Tsavo West National Park, and is a vital part of the Tsavo ecosystem as a whole. In the northern section of the Chyulu Hills, and on the adjacent Mbirikani Group Ranch, is a population of Critically Endangered Eastern black rhino.

Save The Rhino asked me what my favorite and most important tools for rhino conservation were… So I passed the buck to the rangers who are out there every day and night on the sharp edge. This is what they came back with:

Fred Njagi, administrator: “My computer; my work would be very difficult without one. It helps me track the wages of the 71 rangers we employ, enter data of rhino and other wildlife activity, with reporting, with mapping and so much more.”

Edward Piya, officer in charge of security: “It has to be the radios and my mobile telephone – communications are everything. Sometimes I have up to five independent teams operating in different areas and I have to keep track of them and react immediately to situations as they come up. When communications break down, I am blind.”

The contents of a game scout's rucksack: all the equipment you need for a hard day's patrolling

Credit: Maasailand Preservation Trust

Wilson Mancha, in charge of rhino monitoring: “My GPS unit. Now that we have our geographic information system (GIS) in place, I can see where the rhino concentrations are and the areas the patrols are covering. I really look forward to being able to map the movement of individuals.”

Sergeant Sakimba: “My weapon. We patrol areas which are full of buffalo, elephant, lions and sometimes very bad and dangerous poachers. When I have my weapon I am not frightened.”

Sergeant Nderu: “Informants are our best tools. Most of the arrests we make are the result of information we get from informants.”

Ranger Silati: “My boots! Sometimes we walk for ten hours in a day over very rough rocks and without my boots I could not do it. I like boots which don't leave distinct tracks as they tell the poachers we are around.”

Ranger Dickson: “My uniform. I am proud to wear it and it gains me respect from the community when they see I am a rhino ranger.”

Ranger Saab: “The donkeys. They carry and position water for our patrols to places cars cannot reach and this means we can stay in the bush longer.”

Ranger Kilitia, tracker dog unit: “My dogs. They have helped us catch many poachers and it means the poachers can run, but not hide. The dogs are like witch doctors.”

Ranger Masangao: “The camera traps. The Chyulu rhino are like ghosts. We see their tracks and dung but, because the bush is so thick and they mainly move at night, we very seldom see them. The camera traps help us identify them and make them real.”

And mine? If you can call commitment a tool then that would be my choice. Without the commitment of these rangers there would be no rhino left in the Chyulus.