Rhinos: perspectives after a South African visit
An Endangered Species Recovery Success Story from Southern Africa.
by Pete David, www.esablawg.com contributor.
The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi (pronounced Shloo-shloo-ee Im fuh-low-see) Game Reserve (Reserve) located approximately 264 km (165 mi) northeast of Durban, South Africa, is the oldest game park in Africa. The Reserve combines two separate protected areas founded in 1895; the fence dividing the two areas was removed in 1989 to create an extensive protected area of over 906 square km (325 square mi). The highly-acclaimed Reserve has been instrumental in the recovery of the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum), see World Wildlife Fund information, which due to overhunting had declined to less than 20 animals in 1900. White rhinos now number more than 10,000 thanks to a strong conservation ethic and “Operation Rhino”, a program that afforded the rhino full protection from illegal poaching by the South African government and the succeeding provincial government of KwaZulu Natal. See interview of Dr. Ian Player. The conservation success of the park was further highlighted by the establishment in 1960 of the Rhino Capture Unit, which has relocated rhinos throughout Africa. The Natal Parks Board has now turned its conservation attention to increasing the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) population that has been decimated by poaching. The Reserve now contains about 20% of the remaining black rhinos in Africa.
The conservation ethic was very evident on my recent trip to the Reserve. Tourists, both international and from South Africa flock to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi almost exclusively for a chance to see either species of rhino, despite the presence of healthy populations of other big game. One of the attractions to visiting the Reserve, are the guided three-hour bush walks with armed rangers (although both of our rangers admitted to me afterwards that they had not even bothered to load their weapons). These guided walks provide a great opportunity to experience the “bush” and have close encounters with large animals including white rhinos. In addition, this tourist activity brings in much needed revenue and the tips (especially from those of us that fully appreciated the experience) help supplement the ranger salaries. Even for a seasoned wildlife biologist like me, being on foot and getting within about 60 feet of wild white rhinos was a real thrill.
This is my second trip to South Africa and I am still amazed by the pervasive pro-conservation atmosphere and the pride exhibited by the natives even in the large cities when they ask whether you have been to Kruger National Park. To put that question into perspective: can you imagine a New York City tourist agent asking a newly arrived foreign tourist if they plan to visit Yellowstone National Park?
Photos by Pete David, taken in South Africa
Game ranger on walking safari with white rhinos by Pete David
Elephants at a water hole in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve by Pete David
Pair of white rhinos at the Game Reserve