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Dec 30, 2015

iSimangaliso’s Rhino Rescue

In a pro-active intervention, the dehorning and translocation of six rhino – four female adults and two calves – from the uMkhuze section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the Western Shores has been successfully completed.
The translocations followed on from a detailed in loco inspection of uMkhuze by senior iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo park managers, together with section rangers, as part of the ongoing drought monitoring across iSimangaliso. This was followed by an aerial survey to verify the condition of individual rhino in uMkhuze. Animals are rated on a scale of one to five; i.e. five is optimum, four is good, three is fair, two is poor and one is very poor. During the survey, around 15 adult rhino found to be in the lower end of class 3 and below were identified for translocation.
While the current white rhino population in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso is below its ecological carrying capacity, and artificially supplied water points are flowing well, the severity of the current drought, coupled with extremely high ambient temperatures, has resulted in food shortages and severe nutritional stress for some of the animals. Consequently, it was determined that the rhino in poor condition should be relocated as an emergency measure. It was important to do this before their condition deteriorated to a point where they would have been too weak to be translocated.
This is not the first time iSimangaliso has implemented such measures. In 2004, during what was then the second most severe drought in a century, 23 rhino were moved from iSimangaliso’s uMkhuze section to the Eastern Shores, where they have thrived on the coastal grasslands and adapted well to the wetter conditions.

A race against time – the Ezemvelo game capture unit at work with the capture and dehorning before the 120km journey to transport the rhino to their new home. The removal of rhino under these circumstances is not without risk. The calf collapsed and had to be physically carried into the crate. It is a miracle that he survived. The excessively hot conditions in northern KZN as well as the weakened state of the rhino, required the capture team to work from first light and as fast as possible to get the animals sedated, dehorned, crated and transported to their new destination two hours’ drive away.

That moment of relief when the first two white rhino – a mother and her calf – were released into the temporary boma on the Western Shores. Both are in a class three condition, but were already eating more nutritious grass as they came out the crates. They were released simultaneously to ensure that mother and daughter stayed together. The boma was opened minutes later. “Having one of the world’s best teams in the business, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Game Capture unit, is a major factor in the success of the relocation,” says Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The good news, however, is that the rainfall on Wednesday night, 8th December, and early hours of Thursday the 9th, has afforded some relief and enabled further translocations to be halted. With 29mm in Mantuma, 60mm at Lake Sibaya, 6mm at Mission Rocks and 5mm at Charters Creek, some pans are filling and there are patches of water in places closer to quality grazing areas. This has enabled the rhino – whose behavioural conditioning instinctively informs them of their home range – to move away from the poor overgrazed areas because they no longer need to stay within close range of the water holes. The distance that each rhino travels differs – depending on age, condition and energy levels – but the plentiful pools and puddles mean that they can travel more freely between water and the best grazing.
This downpour – together with the first green flush that appeared after a small amount of rain fell a few weeks back – will certainly make a considerable the difference in the short term. For this reason it was decided to leave the remaining rhino that are nutritionally stressed and in poor condition where they currently are, to enjoy the more protein-rich grass that will result from this recent rain. While the rain has bought some time, far more rain is needed before the rhino are completely out of danger. Intensive monitoring will continue and the situation reassessed early in the New Year.
Five adult white rhinos have succumbed to the drought in uMkhuze, some after getting stuck in the mud at iNsumo Pan and being too weak to get out or to be pulled out. This is one of the greatest risks during a drought. With pans now filling, this risk decreases.

Mother and daughter in their new range on the Western Shores of iSimangaliso’s Lake St Lucia.
“During the 1950s when the world’s population of white rhino fell to a mere 300 individuals, a bold initiative to capture and relocate them brought the species back from the edge of extinction,” says Zaloumis. “Now, 60 years later, they once again face multiple threats to their survival – poaching for their horns and more recently, the reduction of suitable habitat due to persistent severe drought, often worsened by poor land management practices upstream from protected areas. Rhinos are not only a priority endangered species globally, they are also iconic in South Africa. We will do whatever we practically can to ensure their protection and survival.“
Since the implementation of iSimangaliso’s recent strategy to dehorn all rhino on the Western Shores – where they were deemed to be more vulnerable to poaching – no further rhino have been lost in that section.
The iSimangaliso Rhino Dehorning Action
As a pro-active step to deter poachers from targeting rhino in the World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) dehorned all the rhino in the Western Shores section of iSimangaliso. This is reflective of the Park’s commitment to put rhinos and their safety first. Under special TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs, the operation to dehorn the animals is conducted by EKZNW vet Dr Dave Cooper in collaboration with Dr Mike Kock and his team from the University of Pretoria – Faculty of Veterinary Science (Onderstepoort). The procedure, which can be likened to cutting a toenail without damaging the “quick”, takes approximately 20 minutes and is completely painless. Research has shown that provided the entire population is targeted, there are no social side effects which may affect the rhino in the short or long-term.
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Category: Blog

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