With buffalo and elephant successfully re-introduced in the 700 km² Majete Game Reserve in Malawi the focus is now on rhino. Dr Markus Hofmeyr, head of veterinary wildlife services in Sanparks, has just returned to the Kruger National Park from Majete where he assisted in the relocation of six black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis minor.
The project is under the auspices of African Parks Foundation who signed an agreement with the government of Malawi in 2003 to assume responsibility for the rehabilitation, management, and development of the reserve for the next 25 years without taking over the government's ownership rights of the reserve.
The Foundation established a 140 km² sanctuary where elephant and buffalo populations have been re-established, together with other game, including sable, nyala, impala and Lichtenstein hartebeest from other parks in Malawi and zebra and eland from Zambia.
"Last year we translocated 70 elephant from Liwonde National Park (Malawi) to the sanctuary in Majete," said Markus. He explains: "Rhinos are not easily available and the process already began last year."
The late Paul Van Vlissingen, who has been involved with African Parks as one of the main funders and drivers, bought nine black rhino in South Africa in 2006 and made six of these animals available to Malawi as a donation from his family. His daughter, Tannetta van Vlissingen, completed the transaction this year.
Early in the evening on Wednesday, October 31, the six black rhino were loaded from bomas near Brits in South Africa and flown in special crates on a cargo plane supplied by Safair to Blantyre in Malawi.
They were then transported by truck to Majete where they were released in a boma in the sanctuary. Two of the original Malawi rhino were brought back to South Africa on the return flight of the cargo plane on 1 November.
'This is to ensure genetic management of the population and males related to the current population in Malawi were removed. The emphasis with the current project was to maximise on the costs involved and take as many females as possible to Majete, hence five of the six animals translocated were female,' says Markus.
To date Majete has seven black rhino and Liwonde National Park has a population of eight. 'The Foundation hopes to establish an additional founding population of 20 more rhino over the next three to five years in parks in Malawi,' says Markus.
Dr Anthony Hall-Martin leads the African Parks projects in Malawi. Peter Fearnhead, chief executive of African Parks, fully supports the initiative and remarks that this is a significant step forward for conservation in Malawi.
Markus and fellow veterinarian Dr Andre Uys of North West veterinary wildlife services (who was in charge of the translocation operation) and Kester Vickery of Specialist Game Services undertook the translocation to Malawi. Patricio Ndadzera is the African Parks coordinator for Majete in Malawi. The translocation was sponsored by the Faber family from the Netherlands.
Rhino Capture Specialists Meet
For the first time, rhino capture specialists from Africa and Asia shared a platform and had the opportunity to share ideas and knowledge, especially with regard to capture, translocation and the re-introductions of rhino populations.
The London Zoological Society and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) rhino specialist working group organised the meeting while the Kenya Wildlife Services hosted a meeting, which took place at the Ngula lodge in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya in October. Dr Markus Hofmeyr, head of Sanparks veterinary wildife services, presented a paper on lessons learnt by Sanparks on white and black rhino capture and translocation.
"The aim was to share and document existing knowledge and ideas on rhino capture and relocation." This would typically encompass planning the capture, techniques, the various drugs used, how the animals are transported, released, the habitat demands and the like. Markus was encouraged by the large Asian contingent, "there were delegates sharing their experiences from Borneo, Nepal, Indonesia, India and Sumatra."
From the African continent, representatives from South Africa, Namibia, East Africa and Kenya ensured a "fantastic opportunity to network." "It will not be unexpected if an Asian group visits the Kruger National Park within the near future to experience some practical applications first hand." The full document should be available on the IUCN rhino specialist website within the next five to six months.