Good news, or a desperate move? That is the question that we can surely ask about the move of four of the world’s rarest mammals to Kenya from the Czech Republic. The answer is both.
The January-March issue of Swara, the Nairobi-published magazine arm of the East African Wildlife Society that bills itself as “The Voice of Conservation in East Africa” has two stories about the Northern White Rhino. One of these is by Kes Hillman, who, with her husband spent 22 years in Garamba National Park in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo working on a variety of conservation issues, with a huge focus on the few remaining white rhino there, the last place on earth where they were known to exist.
I have no pictures of this race of rhino, but they look very much like the Southern race, with which I have had a fair amount of experience. Here is a picture taken in Kenya’s Nakuru National Park.
While the article implies that the poaching of rhino in the region was worst from the 1960s, rhino poaching in Africa has a much longer history than that. In the very early 20th century armed gangs were sent out by colonial Europeans to shoot as many rhino as possible, simply to harvest horns for the dagger handle market in Yemen or the oriental medicine trade. By the1960s there were thought to be about 1300 animals in Garamba. Then came civil wars in Congo and the Amin regime in neighbouring Uganda which wiped out all the rhino, both black and white, in that country. When Douglas Adams, he of the five volumes in the trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy visited Garamba the 1980s there were 22 northerns left. In 2008 when The Trouble With Lions was published, the number was down to three. In her article, titled “Could Ol Pejeta Be A New Start For the World’s Rarest? Kes Hillman tells of the inevitable end of that remnant.
The other article by Berry White is titled World’s Rarest Mammals Fly To Sanctuary In Kenya. In it she recounts how four white rhino were moved from a wintery, snow covered Dvur Kralove zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near my old home town under the shadow of Mount Kenya. In a well coordinated move that involved training of the rhino, specially designed crates, trucking, aircraft and a great deal of TLC, four animals, a female named Najin and her nine-year old calf Fatu, together with males Sudan and Suni made the journey. Naturally the Ol Pejeta’s Conservancy’s web site carries the story and gives more details.
This is really the last chance for this species of rhino. From the thousands that ranged across northern Africa in the days when the only records were in cave paintings, to the demise of all wild ones anywhere, we are left with eight captive ones, four of which are either too old or uninterested in breeding and live in two zoos. Will Najin or Fatu be the mothers of a new generation? Let’s hope we see a photo like this one (a Southern) in a forthcoming issue of Swara or on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy web site.