Sunday, May 9, 2010

Northern White Rhino – a last ditch try.

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.


Diane said...

A very interesting article. I did not realise that the Northern species was different to the Southern species. I sincerely hope the move is successful. It is sad that the younger generation may never get to see the animals that we all took for granted. Diane (I used to work for the Veterinary Wild Life Research Officer many years ago in Zimbabwe)

Jerry Haigh said...

Hi Diane,
I wonder who you worked for. Was it Mike Koch in the days when he was trying the de-horning techniques that we al hope would stop the poachers? You may have known other friends of mine there as well. For instance Peter Gamble who was a veterinary officer there for many years

Diane said...

Hi Jerry, I worked for John Condy at the Vet Research Lab in Harare. His field was mainly foot and mouth. Sadly he passed away while on a job in Botswana, must be about 9 years ago now, though it seems like yesterday! We used to escape to the lowveld on regular occasions to do a lot of field work. Diane

Jerry Haigh said...

Hi Diane,
Didn't know John although I knew his name. The FMD guy I knew was Euan Anderson, who had been in Kenya for many years before going south. He is now retired, just like me!

HopelessDreamer said...

Hey, I was just searching through blogs and saw that you have the career of a wildlife vet. I was wondering if you could answer a question or two. Firstly, does this job require training other than vet school? Like a specialized program or something? Thanks

Jerry Haigh said...

Hi Small town,
I got into wildlife vet med because I lived in Kenya and played tennis. The story is too complex to get into in a blog, but it is told in my first book. I suspect that there may not have been more than about 15 wildlife vets in the entire world in those days, maybe fewer.
To answer your query, I doubt that any one could get into this field these days without postgrad training of some sort. There are associations where you can get job opportunity info. I don't know where you live, but if it is Canada try the Canadian Assn of Zoo & Wildlife Veterinarians web site. If it is the USA try AAZV, WDA of AAWV for start. Europe & Australia also have appropriate associations.
Good luck.