Tanzania: Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary



Location: Mkomazi National Park
Programme leaders: Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn
Programme partner: George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust
Rhino species: Black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)
Size of protected area: 3,270 km2
Activities: Anti-poaching, monitoring, Environmental Education programme – Rafiki wa Faru
Support: We focus on the new Environmental Education programme, Rafiki wa Faru, that links local schoolchildren with Tony Fitzjohn’s conservation efforts and on general Rhino Sanctuary maintenance
Funding partners: Chester Zoo, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, USFWS


Due to inadequate funding and levels of protection in the 1970s and 80s, Mkomazi’s wildlife and habitat deteriorated significantly through invasion by livestock and heavy poaching. This included the loss of all resident black rhino and virtually all the elephant. In 1989, the Government of Tanzania invited the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT) to work with them to undertake a rehabilitation programme for Mkomazi, including restoration of habitat and re-introduction and breeding programmes for the highly endangered wild dog and black rhinoceros. The recovery of the Mkomazi Game Reserve was enabled by the Tanzanian Wildlife Division and the GAWPT through extensive rehabilitation of the infrastructure of the Reserve, with work activities bolstered by local community involvement and projects linked to wildlife protection and maintaining the integrity of the MNP. The Government gazetted Mkomazi, formerly a Game Reserve, to National Park status in 2008.

Programme managers

Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn


The 3,270km2 Mkomazi National Park (MNP) forms the southern extension of the Tsavo Ecosystem into north-eastern Tanzania, and together with Tsavo National Park in Kenya it forms one of the largest protected areas in Africa.

Species / population size

Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary holds Eastern black rhino (D. b. michaeli). Please note that individual population sizes are confidential.


The habitat of MNP and the Tsavo ecosystem in general has a very high carrying capacity (in terms of density) for black rhinos, far exceeding those of southern Africa. With a rich diversity of favoured food plants and vegetation cover based on rich volcanic soils with a bimodal rainfall pattern, the rhino densities recorded by Goddard in Tsavo (including MNP) in the 1960s indicate densities typically one order of magnitude higher that those that could be carried by most rhino conservation areas in southern Africa. Consequently, the cost-effectiveness of rhino conservation in terms of production of rhinos per unit area would also be equivalently high, an important consideration given the expense of construction and maintenance of fencing.

Primary activity

A black rhino cow and calf in the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, Tanzania

Credit: GAWPT

Breeding programme for the black rhino population, together with ongoing monitoring and anti-poaching patrols.

The Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary (MRS) was planned in 1991 in consultation with the GoT and with support and advice from numerous rhino conservation specialists around Africa. The black rhinoceros of northern Tanzania (and Kenya) is of the eastern subspecies / ecotype (Diceros bicornis michaeli). With only three very small and highly vulnerable populations of the Eastern black rhino taxon remaining in Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater Area, Serengeti National Park and the Selous Game Reserve), the Director of Wildlife (DoW) recognised that there was a clear need for the establishment of a new secure breeding population in quality habitat within former range. Ideally, the population could subsequently be used to supply surplus animals to reinforce existing populations. Funded by GAWPT and its supporters, and drawing on successful elements of rhino sanctuary models from Kenya, the fenced MRS (45km2) was constructed and staffed by GAWPT during 1996. The Sanctuary has recently been extended to 50km2.

The initial stock of rhino was sourced and translocated from the highly successful out-of-range population of D.b. michaeli in Addo NP in South Africa, and supplemented by three additional rhino from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic in May 2009, and by three more rhino from Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in June 2012.


See the separate page on Rafiki wa Faru.


All Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary staff, apart from Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn, are Tanzanian nationals. The MRS provides employment to over 50 people.

History of SRI’s involvement

SRI has helped to fund Mkomazi since the late 1990s, giving grants from our core funds, and soliciting grants from Chester Zoo, the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and USFWS. These grants typically go on maintenance of the Sanctuary fence, construction of guard posts, uniforms, communications equipment etc. SRI staff visit every 2-3 years, often in conjunction with Chester Zoo.

Funding needs / budget etc

The Mkomazi fence is eight-foot high with a three-stranded cantilever and 16 strands of high-tensile wire electrified up to 7,000 volts

The cost of maintaining the Sanctuary (excluding capital purchases and fence maintenance) is c. 182,000 euros. The fence maintenance project, which is on a five-year cycle, works out at 97,700 euros per year.


Credit: GAWPT

Other funders

Chester Zoo, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, USFWS

Programme sustainability

There are no income-generating opportunities for Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary and it is highly likely, therefore, that it will always be reliant on donor funding.
Dvur Kralove Zoo and Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park have each provided three rhinos for Mkomazi’s breeding programme.

Visiting Mkomazi National Park

Inside Mkomazi National Park, visitors can stay at Babu’s Camp, which is about 30 minutes’ drive from the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary. There is no public access into the Sanctuary, which can be visited only by invitation by the Fitzjohns or TANAPA.