Just over two weeks ago, 21 black rhino from Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Lake Nakuru National Park were relocated to nearby Borana Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya‘s northern Laikipia district. Borana is now proud to call itself the youngest rhino conservancy in the world. Eleven of the transported black rhino came from Lewa, marking Lewa’s largest translocations to date. The historic translocation has been in the works for three years, as it required meticulous planning, cooperation, and raising of funds.
WWF has been dedicated to the conservation of black rhino for the past 25 years, and their financial and operational support were instrumental in the success of this mission. In fact, Kenya Wildlife Service actually named one of the relocated rhinos “WWF” in appreciation for WWF’s support.
Poaching is still the greatest risk to the black rhino today. According to WWF, the number of black rhinos has dropped from 20,000 in 1970 to less than 600 in 2013. In 2012, 30 black rhinos were killed by poachers in Kenya, and midway through 2013, poachers have already claimed the lives of 37 rhino in Kenya.
Congestion and lack of space also threaten the species in conservancies like Lewa. Lewa’s years of dedicated conservation efforts have paid off, and the rhino population there has now reached its maximum carrying capacity of 110 rhinos, a marked indication of Lewa’s success in protecting and nurturing its black rhino population.
Lewa is now able to carefully introduce its surplus rhinos to areas like Borana, where the endangered black rhino previously thrived. Black rhino have not lived in the Borana area since the 1970s. According to WWF’s Rhino Coordinator, Robert Ndetei, “With rhinos if the population density gets to a certain level, they no longer breed at a desired rate. The essence of this exercise is to reduce the excess numbers and create space for breeding purposes so that we can achieve the country growth target.”
Moving 21 rhinos is no easy task, as a black rhino can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. The Kenyan Wildlife Service moved just two rhino every other day, to provide a gradual transition. First the transporters drug the rhino with tranquilizers, then they fit them with transmitters before transporting them by road in the middle of the night to make for a more peaceful release in the calming hours of dusk. They also saw off their horn in order to deter poachers.
At a time when poaching more prevalent than ever, this inspirational story provides a glimmer of hope that things are moving in the right direction for the black rhino. Since Lewa is connected to Borana, adding rhinos to Borana will create a fully integrated ecosystem for the endangered species, increasing the contiguous protected area by 32,000 acres.
Borana says the translocation has progressed smoothly, and the rhino are getting used to their new habitat. The Borana Conservancy team is excited their guests will now have the rare opportunity to see black rhino in addition to the conservancy’s reticulated giraffe, endangered Grevy’s zebra, elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and the occasional wild dog.
Interested in visiting Kenya and the regions where this amazing conservation work takes place? Check out our new online safari planner, iSafari. If you’re interested in visiting the black rhinos at this private conservancy, the Borana Lodge (pictured left) is the flagship camp with only 8 cottages, and the nearby, private bush home, Laragai House, is ideal for groups and families.