Five South African black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) are adjusting in the bomas at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park (KNP), waiting to leave for new browsing pastures in Zambia. The black rhinos are set to fly to their new home, North Luangwa National Park (NLNP) on May 28, 2008, while four white rhinos, (Ceratotherium simum simum), will travel to another of Zambia’s National Parks near Livingstone by truck.These journeys are the culmination of a current agreement stretching over three countries, which started more than a year ago and is due to run into 2009.
Last year, Namibia agreed to send 12 black rhinos to Zambia who would like to bring the founding population in the NLNP to the recommended founder population of 20 and to restock for tourism purposes white rhino at other national parks in Zambia. The current population in North Luangwa was initiated in 2003 when SANParks relocated five animals to the park. In 2006, 10 more animals were relocated to North Luangwa, with SANParks giving three animals, the Eastern Cape five, and two rhinos being sent by the North West Parks and Tourism Board in South Africa.
The rhinos donated to Zambia by Namibia could not go directly to Zambia as the subspecies occurring in Namibia is different to one that is accepted to occur in Zambia. This led to an agreement between Namibia, Zambia and SANParks where SANParks would relocate 10 Diceros bicornis minor and four white rhinos to Zambia in exchange for the 12 ‘Namibian’ Diceros bicornis bicornis, which can also occur in the western and south western part of South Africa.
According to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), “this larger, straighter-horned and more arid-adapted subspecies originally ranged through Namibia, southern Angola, western Botswana and southwestern South Africa.” Significant populations have remained in the desert and arid savanna areas of Namibia, which is today the subspecies’ stronghold with a population of about 1000 animals. “In recent years, some small populations have been re-established in southwestern South Africa.”
These animals will be added to South Africa’s total population of about 200 of the ‘desert’ species. In 2007, SANParks fetched the 12 rhino from Namibia and relocated six of the these rhinos to its more arid parks, Addo and Karoo National Parks. The other six rhinos were relocated to Baviaans Kloof NR of the Eastern Cape Parks Board, who will supply five black rhino of the subspecies, Diceros bicornis minor, occurring in the Great Fish River Reserve of the Eastern Cape.
The Eastern Cape will translocate five rhino to Zambia in 2009. “There will probably be some kind of agreement with KwaZulu-Natal to exchange some Eastern Cape rhinos for the more appropriate adapted Diceros bicornis minor,” says Dr Markus Hofmeyr, head of Sanparks’ Veterinary Wildlife Services. This is because two of the black rhino translocated in 2006 to NLNP from the eastern Cape did not survive and all efforts are now being made to ensure that animals are sourced from areas that have similar habitat to North Luangwa.
In Zambia, the rhinos will be kept in bomas before their release into one of three sanctuaries at North Luangwa National Park where they will be carefully monitored by the ZAWA with technical support from Frankfurt Zoological Society. Markus believes the high security given to the rhinos in North Luangwa due to the high profile of the project has benefited other animal populations in the park, which is illustrated by the increase in most of these populations.
The south-central black rhino, Diceros bicornis minor, is the most numerous of the black rhino subspecies, according to the IRF. “The subspecies historically occurred from western and southern Tanzania, through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and in the northern and eastern parts of South Africa. It also probably occurred in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), northern Angola, and eastern Botswana.” Today, its stronghold is South Africa and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, with smaller numbers remaining in Swaziland, southern Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, and Zambia.
At present, only South Africa and Namibia can be regarded as source countries, due to their rhino population strengths and political stability. Markus believes that Zimbabwe, with their population of about 500 black rhinos, will also come to the party as soon as it becomes politically stable.
A third subspecies, the eastern black rhino, Diceros bicornis michaeli, which has longer, more slender and more curved horns than the two southern subspecies is currently mostly found in Kenya, which has a population of about 200 animals.
By Lynette Strauss