One has the opportunity of close encounters at Khama Rhino Sanctuary...
With Botswana being in the news, thanks to the rhino translocation efforts of tourism operators including Great Plains Conservation, andBeyond, Wilderness Safaris and the Botswana Government, I recently put my questions to Thapelo T Baiphethi, Senior Marketing officer at Khama Rhino Sanctuary Trust who has over 4 years experience working at the sanctuary. I know a number of Safaritalk members have visited over the years and hopefully this interview's focus upon the trust will encourage more to do so.
What is the history of Khama Rhino Sanctuary?
It is a community trust for people of Serowe, Paje, and Mabeleapodi established to assist in saving the vanishing rhinoceros, restore an area formerly teeming with wildlife to its previous natural state and provide economic benefits to the local Botswana community through tourism and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Who was involved in founding it and are they still there? What were its initial objectives?
It was founded by the community in 1989 to protect the rhinos and enhance environmental education and research.
How much does it cost to maintain the sanctuary annually and from where does the funding come?
Six million from tourism activities offered at KRST and donations from individuals and companies.
How important is the support of the Botswana Govt. and Botswana Defence Force for Botswana’s rhinos? What do they do to support the sanctuary?
All the animals are from the Botswana Govt. including the ones at KRST, they have been loaned to KRST to make money out of them from tourism. BDF helps with security backups and patrols at the sanctuary.
How big is the sanctuary and aside from rhino what other wildlife does it hold?
It's about eight thousand five hundred and eighty five thousand hectares (8585 ha), it has over thirty species of mammals and over two hundred and thirty species of birds refer to our website; www.khamarhinosanctuary.org.bw
How is the local community involved in the sanctuary and how do they benefit from it?
They are owners of the sanctuary. They benefit 95% of employment, selling of craft to the sanctuary and financial benefit of the projects when there is profit at the sanctuary.
How many rhino did the sanctuary start with and where did they come from?
Khama Rhino Sanctuary started with about nine rhinos, four from the Moremi game reserve in Botswana and five from the North West Parks Board, (South Africa).
What has been your rhino breeding success? On the other hand, what setbacks have you experienced?
To date, we have got over 50 rhinos and over 20 have been translocated to other areas of Botswana where safety is guaranteed. Issues of poaching; the intention was to restock the wild but because of poaching, translocation is only done to safety guaranteed places.
What is the procedure for releasing the sanctuary bred rhino into the wild and how easily/quickly do they adapt to once release?
Because of safety, they are not yet released to the wild but taken to safe places. During translocation, we involve experts to help with the capturing.
What is your opinion on translocation of rhino from South Africa to Botswana by various safari companies?
Botswana Govt. is active in the environment and conservation issues hence the transfer of rhinos from South Africa: it will mean safety for those rhinos to ensure continuity in rhinos breeding for future generations to benefit from and to improve the genetic pool of rhinos in Botswana.
What is your approach in educating Botswana’s youth about the existence and protection of the country’s rhino population?
We have an environmental education center which is visited by schools of different levels with different fees, (depending on the activities), to teach them on the importance of conservation and rhino population. They also do out reaches to teach people about protection of rhinos especially the youth, in malls, schools and during exhibitions. You can read more about the education centre here
How do we involve local schools and especially children from an underprivileged background?
We offer them free visits at the sanctuary.
How does the Khama Rhino Sanctuary interact with other rhino conservation organizations in Botswana?
Through Botswana rhino management committee, where all people with rhinos meet on daily basis to discuss issues of rhino conservation in Botswana and through benchmarking between these organizations.
Bearing in mind the huge levels of poaching in South Africa, how important is it for Botswana to have, (and increase), a viable rhino population, both black and white, and what role can the Khama Rhino Sanctuary play?
Having a viable rhino population in Botswana, this will mean many years of re-stocking our region and continuous pulling of tourists into Southern Africa one of the places being Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
How can Botswana do a better job of protecting a rhino population than South Africa, when historically the rhino has become all but extinct in the country?
By building more sanctuaries in Botswana, which are considered safe heavens, small paddocks are considered to be more effective in managing them, South Africa has huge reserves that are not easy to manage.
How do you promote the sanctuary to an international audience? What more can be done to disseminate your news and activities?
Through the use of international tour operators who promote tourism to Botswana, through use of our central marketing organisation (Bots Tourism Org
), through listing and linking with different international websites, through the use of Botswana President who is our patron. Direct marketing in international exhibitions is still limited. Our marketing budget is still too low to cover international magazines and listings which are expensive but have a greater influence with high target audience.
What is the ratio of visitors from Botswana, versus South Africa and overseas? What are you doing to attract more foreign visitors?
South Africa like many overseas countries has got a beach and is a very big country with more resources to attract more visitors. Botswana's stability and strongly active government who recognizes conservation is now helping in driving more tourists to Botswana.
How easily can a stay at the sanctuary be included into a Botswana safari itinerary?
We always welcome every tour operator who wants to partner with KRST in business; there is a certain commission percentage they get. Everyone remember KRST is still the best place to be...a good stop over to the north of Botswana and back to South Africa.
How many visitors are allowed overnight and what is the standard of accommodation available? How much does it cost to stay with you?
We allow relatively around two hundred people per day accommodated in chalet and camping. On average, on chalets, you can spend up to P800.00 per night include park entrance fees and accommodation or up to P1500.00 including an activity per couple.
What are the sanctuary’s aims for the future and how do you hope to realize them?
Is to make sure that the whole country knows about conservation and wildlife protection, through outreaches and awareness we will have an impact on the rhino's and wildlife's future.
All images courtesy and copyright of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary Trust.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.