2016: A good year for Botswana's rhinos

Black rhino Duma Okavango

2016 was a busy year for RCB. Every day we learned something new about the rhinos we helped translocate to Botswana’s Okavango Delta and worked hard to keep them safe. Director Map Ives looks back at some key successes – and reveals our exciting plans for 2017...

Returning wandering rhinos

Early in the year, two young rhino bulls went on a walk-about to the Linyanti wetlands, some 200km away. The area along the boundary of Chobe National Park is considered a high-risk area for rhinos, due to the presence of elephant poachers. So Map decided to recover the animals and bring them back to safety, with the help of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Wilderness Safaris, Helicopter Horizons, Pony Transport (who supplied the trucks) and Dr Rob Jackson.

But the rhinos had other ideas… After being darted with a sedative from a helicopter, they immersed themselves in thick mopane scrub that even our specialist vehicles were unable to penetrate. So we partially revived the rhinos and ‘walked’ them through the bush to some waiting crates, in which they were settled for the return journey to the Okavango. Before being released, the rhinos were fitted with new electronic transmitters to enable us to keep a close eye on them in future. We’re pleased to report that, so far, they have settled down nicely, their roving days hopefully behind them

Devising future strategy

In May, RCB held the first meeting of our newly-formed board of trustees. Jeff Blumberg from the UK, Paul Swart from the USA and Derek Flatt from Botswana joined Map and Kai in Botswana to discuss RCB’s vision and future strategy. Since then, Angela Berney in Switzerland and Neville Isdell from Ireland have also kindly agreed to become trustees and their business acumen is already proving a huge asset.

In 2016, Jeff set up the RCB (UK) Trust in Great Britain, Paul registered RCB-USA in the US, and Angela continued to grow the charity Friends of RCB Switzerland, to offer tax relief to donors in those countries. 

Tagging white rhinos

Over the course of the year, RCB immobilized several white rhinos, fitted transmitters, carried out measurements, checked for parasites and ear-notched young animals. Ear notching is an invaluable aid to field monitors when they are on patrol looking for rhinos in thick bush or at a distance. The monitors can identify each rhino by the notch pattern in its ear, even at a distance, without disturbing the animal. 

COUNTING RHINO CALVES

Over 2016, our monitoring officers reported the births of a healthy number of both black and white rhino calves. Every baby is a cause for celebration and a huge success for RCB, for our partners ­­– and, of course, for the rhinos. 

Many of these young rhinos have yet to be ear-notched, but RCB can only carry out these operations during the cooler months when heat stress is less of an issue.

Such delicate operations require the use of a helicopter and assistance of a vet for several days, so they can be costly. If you can help to fund one of these operations, please get in touch…

In September, RCB carried out a delicate operation to replace the tracking devices on some of the Okavango’s black rhinos.

Carrying out aerial surveys

During November, RCB carried out a comprehensive aerial survey of rhinos in their core range in the Okavango. Our team sat in a slow flying aircraft for days, meticulously recording sightings of not only rhinos, but several other key species.

Though we cannot publish the figures for security reasons, the rhinos are doing well and utilizing habitats as predicted. We will survey the rhinos every year at the same time, using the same equipment and technology, to establish baseline data and identify population trends. 

RCB also invited an expert in black rhino ecology to evaluate the habitats available to the animals in the Okavango. Their assessment will help to direct future rhino introductions and enable us to predict how their range will naturally expand as the rhino population increases.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2017

It is with great excitement that we announce Map will be devoting 100% of his time to rhino conservation and running RCB full-time from February following his retirement from Wilderness Safaris.

In 2017, RCB will also be significantly increasing the number of rhino monitoring teams in the Okavango Delta and other areas of Botswana. More news about this in February. 

What about the rhinos?

After two years of drought, the Okavango Delta welcomed some good early rainfall in November and December. This transformed tens of thousands of hectares of land into fields of green, with broad bladed grasses ideal for white rhino, and a flush of lush foliage on the black rhinos’ favourite shrubs. 

Above average rainfall is predicted for January through to March, so we’re anticipating ideal conditions for Botswana’s translocated rhinos. We’re thrilled that, despite the dry conditions, both black and white rhinos have not just survived, but remained in better than average condition throughout the drought. This indicates how well they have adapted to their new habitat in the Okavango.

With rhino numbers increasing, RCB will be organising operations to fit more animals with transmitters through 2017. Our partners also have exciting plans to bring more rhinos to Botswana next year. All of these animals will become the responsibility of RCB and the DWNP, so we expect to increase our field teams even further by 2018. 

Thank you

As always, RCB is grateful for the support of the Botswana Government, our Patron, the Honourable Minister of Environment, Conservation and Tourism Mr Tshekedi Khama, the Botswana Defence Force and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, especially Major General (Retired) O. Tiroyamodimo.

Thanks also to you, our supporters and donors, for sharing our vision and helping us to give rhinos a second chance at a wild and free future. We still have a long way to go, but with your support we can get there.