The project applies a multi-pronged approach to strengthen both proactive and reactive response to poaching across many sectors. The main tactic in tackling the rhino poaching and illegal rhino horn trade, targets critical links within the wildlife trade supply chain.
These include activities that:
(1) build capacity at the source or in-situ in rhino poaching hotspots;
(2) provide unique skill sets to enforcement agencies operating outside protected areas, up to and including those working at ports of exit;
(3) increase awareness within the prosecutorial and judicial arms of the criminal justice system;
(4) undertake research and monitoring activities targeting multiple contact points along the supply chain.
Some highlights from the past year:
– Trained over 1,000 officials who either work within rhino protected areas or fight rhino crimes at other stages along the wildlife trade supply chain.
– Supported the uptake of specialised situational awareness software, developed by the CSIR, that enhances the operational and tactical response of anti-poaching units covering more than 500,000 hectares of rhino habitat (this Cmore software is a “proudly South African” collaboration that was developed by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research).
– Deployed nine sniffer dogs and tracker dogs that work with endangered species protection at strategic locations across the country.
– Over 20 rhino protected area security managers have undergone analytical training. These managers are now empowered to analyse complex operational data to support strategic decisions when deploying anti-poaching units.
– We develop and produce many different types of awareness raising materials that target audiences as varied as members of the public, rhino reserve managers, and prosecutors.
– We commented in detail on proposed rhino horn trade regulations and monitor legal proceedings against suspects involved in rhino horn trade.
Funds collected during the 2016 Rhino peak Challenge contributed to the above mentioned activities.
Funds from the 2017 challenge will be used to train more dogs as there are currently requests for three. A further two canine trainees will be employed and trained who can be mobile trainers to help with ongoing training on reserves. There will also be ongoing training of law enforcement officers.
Funds from the 2016 challenge were focussed on the Bearded Vulture Breeding Programme activities. The aim of the breeding programme is to collect second eggs from bearded vultures nests in the wild over the next few years in order to have at least 20 birds in captivity to form a founder captive breeding population which is also an insurance population in case of extinction in the wild.
Activities that are required include monitoring throughout the range (in Lesotho and South Africa) during the pre-breeding season to determine which nests are accessible. The necessary permits then need to be applied for from the relevant province and country. Potentially accessible sites are then checked again early in the breeding season to determine whether the birds are actually breeding in those particular nests that year. The sites where breeding has been confirmed are then visited later in the season during the late incubation stage to collect the second egg. Sites are either visited on foot, by vehicle or by helicopter (if available) which often requires resources for a two day period per visit per site. Monitoring is also required post harvesting of the egg to ensure that the adults remain at the nest and focussed on hatching the first egg, and rearing and successfully fledging the check. The site is also monitored in the following breeding season to ensure that the site has not been abandoned as a result of the harvesting or any other activities.
In the 2017 breeding season, approximately 15 nest sites were checked. Harvesting was attempted at eight of these sites where pairs were breeding. Four eggs were collected in total. For the remaining four nests it was not possible to collect eggs either because there was not a second egg (three) or the nest was not accessible after-all (one). The collected eggs were incubated at the African Birds of Prey Sanctuary outside Pietermaritzburg where the breeding programme is based. Three eggs hatched successful and these chicks are currently being hand-reared at the facility using a puppet. These birds will fledge towards end of November 2017.
Funds collected in 2016 contributed towards the monitoring and harvesting activities and the upkeep of the chicks at the breeding facility. The 2017 funds will be used to monitor the sites accessed in 2017 as well as the sites to be accessed in 2018. The aim is to harvest five eggs in 2018 and funds will be used to fund the monitoring activities associated with this. A total of 100 nests sites are available for monitoring which involves a large amount of skilled, human resources and their subsistence and travel costs to undertake this activity. Apart from assisting the breeding programme, monitoring the breeding status of the population is an essential part of the recovery programme and the implementation of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the species which was gazetted by the South African government in 2014.
The funding received from the Rhino Peak challenge will be directed towards the following conservation efforts:
Working in line with Project Rhino’s medium term strategic solution to rhino poaching in the province, Wildlife ACT continues to carry out and support the dehorning of black and white rhino populations in some of the smaller protected areas. This dramatic course of action has proven extremely effective in reducing poaching incidents on respective reserves. By removing the horns from the entire population of rhino on a reserve, the attraction for poachers to enter the reserve decreases significantly. This, together with other law enforcement measure, means that the risks and associated costs of entering these reserves to poach, are significantly higher than the potential reward.
The needs for this intensive intervention include the helicopter and darting expertise, along with veterinarian support for immobilisation and safe horn removal. In addition, horns regrow fairly steadily and therefore need to be redone approximately every two years.
By having a good and reliable understanding of where the population of rhino is in a protected area, the more effectively and efficiently reserve management can deploy field ranger and anti-poaching teams. Wildlife ACT has full time monitoring teams on numerous reserves within the province which work closely with management facilitate this information. In particular, Wildlife ACT has dedicated rhino monitoring teams on Somkhanda Game Reserve, a community owned reserve in Northern KZN. Through ongoing monitoring of the populations of black and white rhino, the health and success of these populations can be better understood and management interventions put in place. In addition, high risk areas and animals can be identified which can be relayed directly to security teams.
This monitoring is made more efficient through the development and fitment of tracking technology which streamlines the on the ground effort. These technologies include the tracking devices as implants or as ankle collars on individual animals.