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Black rhino conservation in Matusadona National Park


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#1 Game Warden

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 09:02 AM

Following recent talk of Imire and young rhinos Carla and Lisa Marie at Buffalo Range, Zimbabwe, in the following article, Dick Pitman of the Zambezi Society talks of hope in Matusadona. This article was previously published on the Save the Rhino International website and is republished here with permission.

Exclusive Safaritalk footage of Tatenda, an Imire success story, taken by Zimbabwean member Gavin Fahrenfort at Imire.

Contrary to many media reports, Zimbabwe still has thriving wildlife populations and a well-managed network of National Parks and safari areas.

However; the Parks Authority depends on its income from tourism and hunting to manage these areas. But ordinary tourists have mostly decided – against a lot of evidence to the contrary – that Zimbabwe’s far too dangerous a place to visit. Hunters seem to be a different breed. While the tourists stay away, the hunters still come, pay their money, enjoy their sport and go safely home again.

Sadly, though, the earnings from sport hunting still aren’t enough to protect an eighth of the country – which is what the Authority controls – and its wildlife. Species sought after by poachers, such as elephants and rhinos, are particularly vulnerable. I know this only too well, because I’ve managed a Zimbabwe conservation agency, The Zambezi Society, for a quarter of a century and much of our work involves helping the Parks Authority to combat poaching and conserve endangered species.

We were founded in 1982 and, shortly afterwards, rhino poaching hit Zimbabwe in a big way. We set up a campaign to buy the field equipment – boots, packs, mosquito nets, radios – that Park rangers needed to go out and combat the poachers. The fundraising campaign itself was hugely successful, but – in spite of our best efforts – by 1990 Zimbabwe only had 300 or so rhinos left.

The next step was to dehorn these survivors – a controversial measure, but much less terminal than a bullet from an AK-47 – and to move them into four Intensive Protection Zones, or IPZs. Here again, the Zambezi Society helped by sourcing funds and equipment for the dehorning and translocations and, in the field, by providing and flying its spotter aeroplane.

The establishment of these IPZs meant that the Society had to decide, very carefully, how it should make best use of its resources. It was impossible for us to give meaningful support to all four IPZs, so we decided to focus on one area and make a good job of it. As we’re the Zambezi Society, we felt this area ought to be somewhere in the Zambezi Valley, so we chose the IPZ that was set up in the Matusadona National Park, on Lake Kariba.

The Matusadona Black Rhinoceros IPZ has a good population of black rhinos, with – and this may prove important in the future, when it comes to reintroducing rhinos into other Zambezi Valley wildlife areas - some inherent immunity against trypanosomiasis, the animal version of sleeping sickness. We began by providing the day-to-day equipment needed by the IPZ anti-poaching force; then diversified into a rhino calf-rearing programme.

Young black rhinos, born on Imire Ranch, were moved into bomas in the Matusadona and reared by hand until they were old enough to release into the Park. Ten young animals went through this programme; and two of them have already had calves since they were released.

By the time this project ended, we felt that the Matusadona population should be able to survive and breed without more introductions, so we moved on to a Park-wide project designed to monitor the rhinos, keep track of their numbers and distribution, and flag any early signs of trouble, such as renewed poaching. We did this by employing three highly experienced rhino trackers, recruited from conservancies affected by Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, and a young and enthusiastic project manager.

This project is still continuing, and we now hope to expand it into a broader support programme to assist with overall IPZ management. Meanwhile, we’re still supplying fuel and equipment to help the Matusadona anti-poaching force to do its job. The black rhino population is growing; we’ve only had one rhino killed by poachers in the Matusadona since 2000; and here, too, we were able to help by paying a network of informers that led to the arrest of the gang responsible.

Our ultimate dream is to reintroduce black rhinos into the great Middle Zambezi parks and safari areas – Mana Pools, Sapi and Chewore – where they were totally wiped out during the 1980s and early 90s. But this all costs a lot of money. Since 1984, the Zambezi Society has raised and spent millions of dollars on rhino conservation. We keep our offices and staff small and cost effective; we get into the field so that we know what the real problems are; and we put our money into practical, hard-headed, on-the-ground conservation projects.

Recently, though, a lot of our “traditional” sources of cash have dried up, for much the same reasons that the tourists aren’t coming. In Europe and the USA, wildlife success stories like the black rhino have been swamped by the doom-and-gloom beloved of the international media. Here in Zimbabwe, it’s much the same story – except for one outstanding example: Chisipite Junior School for Girls.

Every year, for the past ten years, girls in Chisipite’s two senior classes have gone out and raised money for the Zambezi Society’s rhino projects. Every December I am invited to their end-of-term assembly; every year they give us a cheque that always astonishes me with its generosity. It’s always been enough to keep several young rhino calves fed, or the anti-poaching rangers provided with boots and backpacks, or at least one of our rhino trackers paid for a year.

These days, with Zimbabwe’s rampant inflation, the cheque runs to millions of local dollars. But it isn’t huge in “real” terms, and we have to spend it as soon as possible, before inflation makes it worthless. Every year, too, I’ve tried to shame the local embassies into matching Chisipite’s donation. And every year I get polite letters “regretting that our project doesn’t fit our current funding strategy.”

Some countries are already offering black rhinos – old male animals usually, nearing the end of their lives – to sport hunters. We can’t do this – yet. But if, one day, we can start moving rhinos back into the Zambezi Valley safari areas, then who knows?

Dick Pitman

To make a donation to the Zambezi Society’s rhino conservation work in Matusadona National Park, click here, and select Zimbabwe - Matusadona National Park from the list of projects.

For more information about the Zambezi Society, visit their website here www.zamsoc.org.

Save the Rhino International works to conserve genetically viable populations of critically endangered rhinoceros species in the wild. We do this by fundraising for and making grants to rhino- and community-based conservation projects in Africa and Asia. To visit their website click here: www.savetherhino.org.

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#2 Guest_nyama_*

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 10:40 AM

However; the Parks Authority depends on its income from tourism and hunting to manage these areas. But ordinary tourists have mostly decided – against a lot of evidence to the contrary – that Zimbabwe’s far too dangerous a place to visit. Hunters seem to be a different breed. While the tourists stay away, the hunters still come, pay their money, enjoy their sport and go safely home again.

During recent weeks I often thought on this - I guess in Kenya the current threats to wildlife by poaching would be much less harmful if they hadn't banned hunting there. Unfortunately photo tourism is only a good weather thing.

#3 Atravelynn

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 01:12 AM

Contrary to many media reports, Zimbabwe still has thriving wildlife populations and a well-managed network of National Parks and safari areas.


Encouraging! I hope the cute little guy in the video makes it--maybe to roam Mana Pools or elsewhere.
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)

#4 Billy

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 03:38 PM

For an expanded view of Dick Pitman and Zimbabwe wildlife, I strongly recommend his new book which was just published last year. It is called, appropriately, "A Wild Life" and it covers a lot of territory. It is poignant and insightful, a very enlightening and entertaining book. A perceptive memoir from a very, very fine man.

Billy Dodson

#5 Guest_nyama_*

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:08 PM

Hi Billy, thank you for posting this. A few weeks ago I saw some photos by Dick on ShutterPoint Photography and also read about his book. Last weekend then I was looking for some new books and remembered that book about Lower Zambezi, but unfortunately I hadn't bookmarked that photo site and also had forgotten Dick's full name. Quite frustrating. With your help I've found it again now. Great.

Dick Pitman @ ShutterPoint





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