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.
Our success in growing Botswana’s wild rhino population and keeping them safe is thanks to incredible people, like you, who support our work. Here’s just a few of the ways you’ve helped us make a difference this year...
Increasing our teams of monitoring officers
Thanks to the support of Fondation Segre in Switzerland, RCB has deployed six more handpicked and highly trained monitoring officers into the field. Each team has a specially modified 4x4 vehicle and all the gear required for extended periods tracking rhinos in the bush.
Expanding our range of specialist vehicles
Men and machines working in the bush need fuel, information and backup. So, to get supplies out to teams in hard-to-reach areas, RCB has purchased a four tonne ex-military truck and a seven-metre, flat-bottomed boat. This remarkable truck can cross water that's about two metres deep and about 100 metres wide. Luckily, it’s specially equipped with an extended air snorkel and large wheels. During the wet season, when much of the land turns to water, the boat will enable us to keep moving despite the challenging conditions.
It’s also vital that we can support our ground-based monitoring teams with information from aerial patrols. So we were excited to purchase a light aircraft. The nimble little Aviat Husky will undertake monitoring patrols, search operations and aerial surveillance over the most remote areas of the delta. This combination of ‘eyes in the sky’ and ground tracking enables us to successfully locate the rhinos – and keep all the wildlife in the Delta safe from illegal activity.
Collaborating with other rhino conservation organisations
RCB’s strong partnerships with all parties involved in rhino and wildlife conservation in Botswana are already making a huge difference.
- We’re assisting the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to put patrols into the remote areas where they’re needed most, improving their coverage, efficiency and efficacy.
- This year, we also helped President Khama and the DWNP with the translocation of four white rhinos from Khama Sanctuary to the newly created Sowa Conservation Park, where we hope numbers will build.
Helping to translocate rhinos
A cornerstone of RCB’s operational vision is cooperation. One of the highlights of 2017 has been the high level of collaboration among all the organisations and individuals involved in rhino conservation in Botswana, including the government and the private sector.
This year, Rhinos Without Borders, a joint venture between tourism operators Great Plains and &Beyond, translocated 40 white rhinos to northern Botswana from South Africa, an operation assisted by RCB in Botswana. We also donated state-of-the-art tracking devices costing £34,685 ($46,373) for the translocated rhinos so we can track them on a daily basis. I’m pleased to report they’re doing well.
Keeping rhinos safe... and rescuing them when they’re in trouble
Several times a year, we fit new or replace the batteries in state-of-the-art tracking devices on our rhinos. These operations are very expensive, requiring the services of a veterinarian and a helicopter, but this is a vital aspect of our work.
In May, I was overwhelmed when three local men working on a remote cattle outpost went beyond the call of duty to protect two of Botswana’s rare black rhinos. The men had never seen a rhino before, but when they spotted Moratiwa and her calf Molly far from home, they knew they were in trouble. One man, Robert Time, walked for 60km to reach a phone and call us.
I quickly scrambled everything we needed to capture the wandering rhinos and bring them back to safety. But afterwards we didn’t forget the rhinos’ new friends. A few weeks later, I flew back to thank and reward the cattle herders for their honesty and integrity.
You can read the whole incredible story in our news pages.
Involving the local community in rhino conservation
In November, I was privileged to take part in an pioneering community outreach programme called Walk For Rhinos organised by Kane Motswana. Kane is a member of the San, originally from the Gudigwa area of the northern Okavango, and a passionate, professional guide. He realised that he and other local people had a role to play in helping RCB to spread the word about Botswana’s precious rhinos.
Kane and his companions walked an incredible 470km through difficult bush terrain, visiting 16 villages along the northern and eastern fringes of the Okavango, to talk to local people at their traditional gatherings or ‘dikgotla’.
Engaging our international supporters
In May, I was kindly invited by Friends of RCB Switzerland to give a presentation to some of our most dedicated supporters in Basel. We had a wonderful evening and made some marvellous new friends, including Patrizia Keller. Patrizia generously donated a Toyota Land Cruiser truck from her farm in the Tuli Bloc here in Botswana, which will help our new Community Liaison Officer spread our message throughout the local area.
Watch our website and social media for news of Map’s exciting US city lecture tour in autumn 2018.
Next year is shaping up to be RCB’s most exciting year yet
2018 will see the launch of our community outreach and engagement programme. It’s well known that the communities who live closest to the wildlife must be part of any conservation solution. Our Community Liaison Officer will work to engage the communities in our rhino conservation and create opportunities for them to benefit from the rhinos’ presence. This will strengthen our surveillance of the rhinos and increase information-sharing to combat poaching.
As the pressure on Botswana’s wildlife increases, RCB will continue to help the government fight poachers. Next summer, two highly trained rhino protection dogs will join our monitoring teams and the government’s Anti-Poaching Unit on special patrols. They will be the first K9 (canine) team to work as ‘rhino guardians’ in Botswana.
The dogs and their specialist training were kindly donated by the Real Africa Trust and Animals Saving Animals. We know that the creation of a specialist RCB Dog Squad will make it much harder for wildlife criminals to evade detection. There is no escaping the nose!
You can support our rhino protection dogs here.
As we face the future, we know there will be challenges, but RCB is already making a significant difference to growing numbers of wild rhinos. None of this would have been possible without the support of our supporters around the world. Our mission has grown faster than I could ever have imagined. Today, it is of international importance.
I want to thank all of you who have helped us in so many ways, and express my gratitude to RCB's hard-working trustees and, of course, our esteemed Patrons, His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Environment Minister TK Khama, for their continued support.
I wish all of you a great end of year break. I must also say thanks to all of our monitoring teams who will be on duty at this festive time of year. We are eternally grateful for their incredible loyalty and discipline.