Whirlwind white rhino tagging operation is a success

RCB puts tracking devices on white rhinos to keep them safe in the Okavango Delta

In August, Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB) completed a whirlwind operation to fit tracking devices on white rhinos living in the Okavango Delta, in order to keep these precious animals safe.

The intense three-day operation was carried out by a small, but highly skilled team, comprising RCB’s operations manager, Wilderness Safaris’ Botswana Sustainability Coordinator Michael Fitt, Helicopter Horizons pilot Michael Drager, and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ head vet, Dr Mmadi Rueben.

Michael Fitt places cotton wadding in the rhino’s ears to keep it quiet and calm during the tagging operation

Michael Fitt places cotton wadding in the rhino’s ears to keep it quiet and calm during the tagging operation

Four men is not many when you consider that an average white rhino bull may weigh as much as 2.3 tonnes – and may need to be moved in order to gain access or maintain a clear airway. Matters are further complicated when sedated rhinos wedge themselves into thorny bushes before coming to a halt. This means the team have to quickly remove encroaching vegetation in order to get close enough for the vet to stabilise the rhino.

Many sedated rhinos come to a halt in a bush. Then the rhino’s eyes are covered, to keep the animal calm, and its breathing is closely monitored. If necessary, oxygen will be administered.

Many sedated rhinos come to a halt in a bush. Then the rhino’s eyes are covered, to keep the animal calm, and its breathing is closely monitored. If necessary, oxygen will be administered.

Fortunately, our highly experienced team has fitted tracking devices on countless rhinos, under all sorts of challenging circumstances, and so are able to take it all in their stride.

Up before the sun each day, they identified suitable animals from the air, which were then darted with a sedative from the helicopter. By the time each rhino went to sleep, the team were on the ground nearby, ready to leap in and stabilise it.

A sedated rhino is fed oxygen from the vet’s magic box of tricks for the duration of the operation.

A sedated rhino is fed oxygen from the vet’s magic box of tricks for the duration of the operation.

Each sleeping rhino’s vital signs are closely monitored throughout the operation. Its eyes are covered and its ears are plugged to keep it quiet and calm and minimise any stress. Then an electronic tracking device is fitted. These state-of-the-art tags help our monitoring officers to keep a close eye on each individual, and ultimately keep them safe.

Each member of our experienced rhino catching team has a different role, so the operation can be completed with maximum speed and efficiency.

Each member of our experienced rhino catching team has a different role, so the operation can be completed with maximum speed and efficiency.

Once a tag has been safely fitted, the rhino is sprayed with a harmless identifying mark, which can clearly be seen from the air. This ensures that the same rhino won’t be accidentally darted again, and will wear off over time.

Then the team retreat to the safety of the helicopter, leaving the vet to bring around the patient. He injects a reversal drug and moves away quietly. Rhinos can wake up quite quickly, and if they’re confused, they can be unpredictable, so everyone waits nervously until the rhino is back on its feet and heading in the opposite direction. Then it’s on to the next rhino!

Does my bum look big in this? The vet administers a reversal to the sedative and makes sure the rhino is safely back on its feet before leaving. Each rhino is sprayed with a harmless substance so the aerial team don’t dart it again. 

Does my bum look big in this? The vet administers a reversal to the sedative and makes sure the rhino is safely back on its feet before leaving. Each rhino is sprayed with a harmless substance so the aerial team don’t dart it again. 

The operation was an outstanding success, with a impressive number of white rhino cows and bulls safely – and speedily – tagged.

After being tagged, the white rhinos are soon back up on their feet again, wondering what happened!

After being tagged, the white rhinos are soon back up on their feet again, wondering what happened!

Tracking devices are absolutely vital to RCB’s work to monitor and protect every rhino in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but operations to fit them are expensive.

A tracking device costs about £2,800 and needs replacing regularly. Helicopter fuel and airtime costs in excess of £1,000 and with veterinary drugs and specialist equipment, such as the portable oxygen tank, you can see why these operations are a serious financial commitment.

Can you help us cover the cost of a tagging operation, and keep Botswana’s vital rhino population safe?

RCB calls in the dogs to protect rhinos

This three-month-old Belgian malinois is part of the protection training programme with Animals Saving Animals. This dog is not one of RCB's pups – it's destined for rhino protection work in Zimbabwe

This three-month-old Belgian malinois is part of the protection training programme with Animals Saving Animals. This dog is not one of RCB's pups – it's destined for rhino protection work in Zimbabwe

Two very special puppies have been selected for a pioneering role with Rhino Conservatin Botswana (RCB). The malinois (or Belgian shepherd) pups will be the first canines to work as wildlife guardians in northern Botswana, helping to deter poachers and keep wildlife safe.

The pedigree puppies have just been born in Ireland. In October, they will travel to the West Midlands where their training will begin with Daryll Pleasants. Daryll is a former trainer of military dogs for the British Army and the founder of the charity Animals Saving Animals.

This malinois pup is learning how to scent track with its handler.

This malinois pup is learning how to scent track with its handler.

With Animals Saving Animals, RCB’s puppies will learn the same seek, find, detain and guard skills as other protection and detection dogs, but with extra twists designed to get them used to the sights and sounds of Africa, and wildlife crime work. These include visits to a local zoo to introduce the pups to rhinos, lions, elephants and other large and potentially dangerous African animals; helicopter flights, so that they can get to the scene of any crime quickly and leap into action, and snake-aversion training.

RCB’s Director Map Ives says: “The addition of these rhino protection dogs to our monitoring teams will greatly improve our ability to keep Botswana’s rhinos safe – and, ultimately, help to ensure the long-term survival of these wonderful creatures. Vigilance is key to stopping the illegal and senseless trade in rhino horn, and the recruitment of dogs to our team will greatly improve our levels of watchfulness.”

A scent trail is laid for the three-month-old malinois pups to follow, to fine tune their tracking skills.

A scent trail is laid for the three-month-old malinois pups to follow, to fine tune their tracking skills.

He added: “Malinois are ideal for this work – intelligent, loyal, agile, sturdy and, as protection services around the world will testify, equally able to track, detect, guard and apprehend. We’ve learned that one well-trained dog can cover as much ground in a night as eight officers, making it much harder for wildlife criminals to evade detection. And as news of the protection dogs’ arrival spreads, their presence across the Delta will be a powerful deterrent – sending out the message that Botswana’s rhinos now have canine guardians no poacher can escape.”

The cost of acquiring, training and equipping the dogs is being met by The Real Africa Trust, the charitable arm of the award-winning UK travel company Real Africa, which specialises in safaris.

The pups are taught to tackle criminals on command from a young age.

The pups are taught to tackle criminals on command from a young age.

Real Africa’s Sara White says: “We’re delighted to be able to donate these two highly-trained dogs to RCB to multiply their work force. Botswana has the best wildlife protection record in southern Africa, but anywhere that has rhinos will soon attract the unwanted attentions of poachers. These dogs will help RCB to be proactive in stamping out wildlife poaching before it can decimate rhino populations as it has done elsewhere in Africa.”

The final stage of the dogs’ training will see them transported to Botswana next summer, where they will acclimatise and meet the lucky RCB monitoring officers who will be their new handlers. The two teams will then train together before being despatched to the field.

An older dog is alert and ready for action. The dogs love their training and whimper with excitement as their training harnesses are put on.

An older dog is alert and ready for action. The dogs love their training and whimper with excitement as their training harnesses are put on.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Real Africa is currently arranging two special fundraisers for RCB and other African wildlife charities. On October 12, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Colonel John Blashford-Snell will join other world travellers, adventurers and conservationists speaking at Explorers Against Extinction at the Royal Geographic Society in London. Tickets for the evening are on sale now at www.explorersagainstextinction.co.uk

An auction of wildlife art by professional artists as well as celebrities, among them Fern Britton and Kevin Pietersen, is also taking place online from now until 15 October. To view the lots or bid, visit: www.explorersagainstextinction.co.uk.

RCB will soon start fundraising to support our new Dog Squad. We need to build special kennels in Botswana to keep the dogs safe and cool. We also need to purchase stab-and bullet-proof armour to protect the dogs from unscrupulous poachers, and feed them on a high quality diet so they have plenty of energy for the job. Can you help?

Men rewarded for reporting rhinos to RCB

Thanks to the honesty of three men working on a remote cattle outpost, two of Botswanas rare black rhinos are safely back where they belong. Map Ives went to thank them...

This week, Rhino Conservation Botswana’s director Map Ives and Regional Wildlife Officer Tim Blackbeard visited a remote cattle post in Makgadikgadi Pans to personally thank three men for helping to protect two black rhinos.

Help protect rhinos and win a luxury safari, courtesy of Safari Footprints

RCB's friends at Safari Footprints are raising money to translocate a family of rhinos from poaching hotspots in South Africa to safer and more secure environments here in Botswana, where they will be well protected by RCB and the Botswana government.

The cost of moving one rhino is USD $45,000. To help raise the funds, Safari Footprints is raffling two breathtaking luxury safaris valued at USD 50,000 and USD 75,000 respectively.

Find out more...

Black rhino wanderers are safely returned: Part 1

Earlier this month, two black rhinos had to be rescued by RCB when they went ‘walk about’ in a potentially dangerous area...

When the quick-thinking security team at a remote outpost in northeast Botswana call the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to say they have spotted a female black rhino and her large calf, Map Ives, RCB's director, sets about mobilising a team to bring these important animals back to safety – and fast!

RCB gets some hot new wheels!

Here at RCB in Maun, we’re very excited to have taken delivery of our new rhino monitoring vehicles. 

These sturdy trucks are specially adapted to cope with the unique challenges posed by the watery environment of the Okavango Delta – and fulfil their important mission: to keep Botswana’s rhinos safe.

So what makes these vehicles so special? Find out more here...

Video: RCB’s Map Ives talks rhinos with leading business magazine

RCBs Director Map Ives chats to Swedish journalist Mats Ögren Wanger from Veckans Affärer – Swedens leading business magazine – about protecting rhinos, joined-up thinking, ecotourism and the need for worldwide support.

“Innovation to me is to take an existing problem and look at it differently, with new eyes,” says Map, the brain behind the Botswana Government’s innovative approach to rhino conservation.

Find out more about the thinking behind RCB, the need to give black and white rhinos a safe haven from the poaching crisis – and how you can help.

Watch the video now.

RCB thanks special young fundraisers

RCB thanks special young fundraisers

Recently, we’ve been incredibly impressed to hear about the fundraising efforts of some of RCB’s youngest supporters.

Last year, three young rhino-lovers decided to do something to help Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB) protect more wild rhinos in Botswana. After Halloween, nine-year-old Caylyn, Molly and Sadie had more sweets than they could possibly eat, so they decided to sell them to raise money for rhino conservation.

Prince Harry is our new Patron

Prince Harry is our new Patron

Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB) is proud to announce that, today,  His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales becomes a Patron of RCB. He will add his voice to that of Botswana’s Honourable Minister Tshekedi Khama to help raise awareness of the plight of Africa’s black and white rhinos and inspire positive action.

The announcement comes after Prince Harry visited Botswana last September, when he joined Map Ives and Kai Collins in the Okavango Delta on a sensitive operation to fit state-of-the-art electronic tracking devices to critically endangered black rhinos.

One lake, one rhino

We love it when rhino-lovers come together and do their bit to help rhinos! This summer, Ruth Nussbaum and Kyle de Nobrega launched an adventurous campaign called “One Lake, One Rhino” to raise the funds to buy one precious black rhino for Botswana.

The courageous and committed pair tackled a 60-day unassisted paddle on lake Tanganyika, one of the world’s most remote and wild lakes. They raised a magnificent $25,073, which was match funded by one generous donor, bringing the total to more than $50,000. It just shows what we can achieve, together.

In September, they handed over the cheque to Wilderness Wildlife Trust’s Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project to contribute towards the next translocation of rhinos – in association with RCB – next spring. 

Share their adventure on Facebook and Instagram

RCB’s work to save rhinos featured on Natural History Museum website

The popular Wildlife Photographer of the Year blog on Londons Natural History Museum website featured two gripping stories by RCB photographer Neil Aldridge in October 2015. Neils photo stories transported readers to northern Botswana, taking them into the skies over Moremi Game Reserve spotting rhinos and getting a drenching out tracking.