The amazing story of Valentine

 This adorable white rhino calf was named Valentine by Map Ives and the monitoring team. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

This adorable white rhino calf was named Valentine by Map Ives and the monitoring team. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

Over the many years I’ve been working in the wilds of Botswana, I’ve come to appreciate the fragility of life. This understanding is one of driving forces behind the formation of RCB – a determination to help build rhino populations back to viable levels in Botswana, so they can fulfill their role in the ecosystems that keep our planet healthy. 

Despite their size and strength, rhinos are fragile. They are vulnerable to human threats and our ignorance has brought them to the edge of disappearing throughout Africa.

When I first began relocating rhinos in Botswana in 2000, with ecotourism operator Wilderness Safaris, I knew that returning white rhinos to the Okavango Delta was rife with potential failure. The region’s grasslands, shady trees and waterways provide excellent habitat, but they also support predators.

Local lions and hyenas are skilled at hunting large and dangerous prey, such as buffalo, hippopotamus and even young elephants. They would think nothing of snacking on young rhinos.

 Valentine and his mother were enjoying themselves at a wallow. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

Valentine and his mother were enjoying themselves at a wallow. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

I remember how excited we were when we saw our first white rhino calves born in the Delta. In those early days, there were only a handful of white rhinos here and we would drive out into the bush to look for them, much as we do to this day. On a monitoring drive on Valentine’s Day in 2005, we spied a female rhino we had named Bogale with a tiny calf. They were at a water hole and the calf was enjoying a refreshing wallow in the clinging mud. 

Every rhino calf is a cause for celebration, because it’s a sure sign of success in any species. But with a newly established population, an addition to the population is extra special and we were so thrilled to see him that we laughed out loud. We named him Valentine on the spot.

Over the years, Valentine grew into a fine young man. Eventually, he had to leave his mother’s side as she – being a total star – produced more calves and would no longer tolerate him hanging around. But rhino family bonds run deep and Valentine was more of a mummy’s boy than anyone realised... until yesterday.

 The rhino monitoring team were thrilled to see this new addition to Botswana's fledgling rhino population. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

The rhino monitoring team were thrilled to see this new addition to Botswana's fledgling rhino population. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

Our aerial surveillance operators regularly take to the skies to support the ground patrol teams with locating and monitoring the rhinos. Thanks to our new Aviat Husky aircraft and the talents of our skilled pilot, the aerial monitors can cruise at almost a walking pace over the bush looking for target rhinos and photographing them.

The images enable us to identify each individual rhino from its ear notches, horn shape or any other feature that distinguishes them. They form a vital part of our rhino database.

When the team got back to Maun, we all crowded round the computer, reviewing the new images and identifying the ear notches. We recognised some old rhino friends, delighted in new faces and tried to figure out which rhinos had their heads in bushes when the photos were taken.

 Look at him now! Thirteen years later, Valentine has grown into a magnificent bull

Look at him now! Thirteen years later, Valentine has grown into a magnificent bull

But the identity of one mystery rhino eluded us. He was a magnificent bull with torn ears, so we couldn’t see if they were notches or tears. Suddenly, our Operations Manager recalled a photo from 2005 he had backed up only that morning. Was it possible? Could this huge individual be that tiny calf wallowing next to his mother Bogale?!

Yes, it was Valentine. And, boy, has he grown! He’s now a massive, muscular 13-year-old bull just coming into his prime and now living only about 20km from where he was first seen as a tiny calf. Clearly, he wasn’t able to fully cut those apron strings and now lives on the edge of his mother’s territory.

The recruitment of such a magnificent bull rhino to Botswana’s wild population is an incredible success and highlights the importance of RCB’s work. We hope Valentine will go on to breed and support the recovery of his kind from the onslaught of poaching by contributing to the next generation.

His survival is the result of dedicated monitoring and protection, his identification the result of years of careful and accurate observation.

 Map Ives was thrilled to see this precious calf has not only survived, but thrived

Map Ives was thrilled to see this precious calf has not only survived, but thrived

For me personally, I felt a strong sense of connection. I was lucky to see Valentine when he was a vulnerable young calf with no guarantee of survival, and now today he is in his prime and doing well.  I could not be more proud.

This story illustrates everything we at RCB are doing every day – and how good it feels to be making a real difference.

 Valentine was fortunate to have an excellent start in life in the Okavango Delta. Please help us to keep him – and other rhino calves – safe. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

Valentine was fortunate to have an excellent start in life in the Okavango Delta. Please help us to keep him – and other rhino calves – safe. Photo courtesy of Okavango Wilderness Safaris

Please support our rhino monitors and help us to keep Valentine safe!

Map Ives

Director RCB

RCB's rhino protection dog, Savas, takes his first helicopter flight

 Savas, the rhino protection dog, encounters his first helicopter with the support of his trainer Daryll Pleasants of Animals Saving Animals. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas, the rhino protection dog, encounters his first helicopter with the support of his trainer Daryll Pleasants of Animals Saving Animals. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas, one of RCB’s two new rhino protection dogs, recently passed a critical phase in his training when he took his first helicopter flight ahead of his deployment to Botswana this summer.

Our handsome boy is a one-year-old Belgian shepherd or malinois. The breed is similar to the German shepherd, but smaller, more compact and more athletic.

Savas is being given specialist training as a rhino protection dog in the UK by Daryll Pleasants, Director of Animals Saving Animals, and dog trainer James Wozencroft. “The Belgian shepherd is a tough, hardy dog with a high ‘prey drive’, making it ideal for this sort of work,” said James, who also brought along another six-month-old dog he is training, called Luna.

 Six-month-old Luna is not afraid of anything in the SaxonAir helicopter hangar. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Six-month-old Luna is not afraid of anything in the SaxonAir helicopter hangar. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas’ training includes searching out ammunition and illegal wildlife products, tracking down and detaining poachers and other criminals, visiting a zoo to encounter the African animals he may meet in the wild in Botswana, and travelling in light aircraft, such as helicopters.

In March, he and Luna visited the SaxonAir hangar at Norwich International Airport to have their first encounter with a helicopter.

“A helicopter enables rhino protection teams to deploy swiftly to the scene of an incident, but for young dogs the down-draft and noise created by the turning rotors is initially a scary experience. To allow us to desensitise our dogs to this, SaxonAir generously allows us to take them up in a helicopter. This training and environmental experience is invaluable to their future roles as protection dogs,” said Daryll.

 Savas sits on trainer James Wozencroft's knee in the stationary helicopter to get used to the new experience. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas sits on trainer James Wozencroft's knee in the stationary helicopter to get used to the new experience. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

First, Savas and Luna were introduced to the stationary helicopter in the hangar and given the opportunity to give it and the environment a good sniff. Then they were encouraged to climb in and out of the helicopter cockpit, with their handlers and lots of support. 

Then the helicopter was moved out of the hangar into the open, where the rotors were started. The dogs were now introduced to the noise and down-drafts created by the turning blades. Savas and Luna are confident dogs and, with the support and reassurance of their handlers, they took it all in their stride.

Next, the dogs were encouraged to trot up to the helicopter where they were assisted to jump in (Luna is only a puppy and a bit small for a single leap) several times, before the doors were closed and the helicopter lifted off for a 10-minute flight.

 Savas takes some time to get used to the noise and down-draft created by the helicopter's turning rotor blades with the support of his handler James. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas takes some time to get used to the noise and down-draft created by the helicopter's turning rotor blades with the support of his handler James. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

 Savas and Luna complete their first helicopter flight. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas and Luna complete their first helicopter flight. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Throughout the flight, the dogs sat between their handlers’ knees, where they could look out of the window and see their surroundings. But our Savas felt so comfortable, he actually lay down and relaxed during the flight.

In June, Savas will be deployed to Botswana with Prima, a German shepherd who is being trained in Italy. He will work in Maun and the Okavango Delta to search out illegal wildlife products, track down wildlife criminals and deter poachers from targeting Botswana's wildlife and of course its precious rhinos.

Follow his training and adventures on social media or by adopting him (coming soon).

 The helicopter training is just one of the ways we ensure Savas has experienced as many aspects of his new life in Botswana as possible, with the support of his trainers. Photo courtesy of Louis Supple

The helicopter training is just one of the ways we ensure Savas has experienced as many aspects of his new life in Botswana as possible, with the support of his trainers. Photo courtesy of Louis Supple

2017 – another great year for rhinos

Dear friends,
2017 has been a year of mixed fortunes for rhinos. Though RCB is achieving more for rhino conservation in Botswana than we ever thought possible, elsewhere the number of rhinos being killed is still alarmingly high.

That’s why RCB’s work in Botswana is more important than ever. For the rhinos’ security, I can’t share the number of young born this year, but we’re proud that Botswana’s rhino numbers are increasing steadily. When other populations are in decline, every precious rhino calf is a cause for celebration – and a vital contribution to the world’s population. 

Read more about our rhino successes in 2017...

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

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.