Good news about rhinos

Rhino cow and baby, Madikwe Game Lodge, North West province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
Rhino cow and baby, Madikwe Game Lodge, North West province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism.

Good news for southern Africa’s rhino population! After almost a decade in which poaching has skyrocketed, South Africa and northwest Namibia saw a decrease in the killing of these animals.

Since 2007, poaching of rhinos has risen drastically in response to an international demand for their horns. Some people mistakenly believe the horns have medicinal value.

Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister, told the BBC the drop in her country was due to better anti-poaching technology and tighter border controls. In 2015, the country arrested 317 poachers, versus 258 in 2014.

Save the Rhino Trust attributes the drop in northwest Namibia  to increased patrolling of the rhino’s range, made possible by fly camps funded by Conservation Travel Foundation (formerly Tou Trust) and TOSCO (Tourism Supporting Conservation), groups supported by Ujuzi’s partners in Namibia.

Interested in getting involved? Guests at Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland, Namibia, can participate in conservation in action by tracking desert-adapted rhino with Save the Rhino Trust.

Contact Ujuzi to learn more about visiting South Africa or Namibia.

Today is World Rhino Day

A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.
A southern white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.

Please take a few minutes today to help protect endangered rhinos around the world. If you are able, consider a donation to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, which is racing against time to save the northern white rhino. There are only four northern white rhinos left in the world.

You can read more about Ol Pejeta’s work here.

Find additional organization that work for rhinos, and other ways to help out, at World Rhino Day’s Facebook page.

Big boy! Our find of the day with only 33 living in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
A black rhino enjoys browsing in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. Photo taken by Ujuzi African Travel.

Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is this Friday, May 15. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many endangered species that are beloved the world over. It is a privilege to be able to introduce people to this amazing creatures through Ujuzi Travel. I hope these safari photos of endangered animals inspire you to protect them for future generations!

(A list of organization dedicated to protecting vulnerable animals is included below.)

Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Elephant family. Photo by Petra Kilian-Gehring.
African elephant family. Photo taken by Petra Kilian-Gehring on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
Beautiful grey crowned cranes.
Beautiful crowned cranes spotted on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Read moreCelebrate Endangered Species Day

Saving rhinos one surgery at a time

A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.
A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.

Poaching the Creature That’s More Valuable Than Gold is a fascinating look by the BBC into the worlds of people who poach rhinos and people who protect them. Rhino poaching has increased dramatically over the past few years as demand for their horns escalates.

Rhino horn is used as a medicine in parts of Asia, where people credit it with treating everything from male impotence to cancer. None of the claims are true. Rhino horn is simply keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails.

Rhinos have gone extinct in parts of their range, and poaching has risen nearly 100-fold over the past decade in South Africa.

The article provides a rare look into the many aspects that contribute to poaching, including poverty and political corruption. It also profiles people risking their lives to save rhinos, and veterinarians providing care to rhinos who have survived poaching attacks.

It notes a new trend in poaching, where some poachers tranquilize rhinos rather than kill them before removing their horns. Unfortunately, these poachers don’t have veterinary experience and often end up severely injuring the rhinos.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a (non-graphic) video of veterinarians doing facial surgery on one such rhino.

Featured Park: Lake Nakuru, Kenya

One of the highlights of my last trip to Kenya was Lake Nakuru. It is world famous for its birdlife, which is a beacon for leading ornithologists, scientists and wildlife filmmakers. Even though I wasn’t visiting at the height of the bird season, I saw a nice variety. Greater and lesser flamingo dotted the shores pink and were complemented by pelicans, hammerkops, snowy egrets, multiple heron species, sacred ibises, and more.

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The park spans an attractive range of wooded and bush grassland around the lake, offering wide ecological diversity, from lakewater and woodland, to the rocky escarpment and ridges where rock hyraxes, klipspringers and baboons make their homes.

This is one of the few places in the world where lions have adapted to climbing trees. It’s quite an astounding sight to look up in the canopy and find a king of the forest looking down at you!

Other notable game within the lake include hippos and clawless otters. White rhinos, waterbucks, Bohor’s reedbucks, zebras, cape buffalo, impalas, elands and Thomson gazelles roam the shores. Deep in the forest, shy black rhinos can occasionally be spotted as they browse among the undergrowth. I was lucky enough to spot one, as well as to view white rhinos on the lakeshore.

I also enjoyed the large social groups of baboons and vervet monkeys that could be observed throughout the forests.

Lake Nakuru is just one of many wildlife-rich parks throughout Kenya. Learn more about Kenya’s parks.

Can bioengineered rhino horns save the species?

rhino in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
A black rhinoceros browses in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

 

A San Francisco biochemist thinks he might have the solution to the rhino poaching problem: make rhino horns out of stem cells.

M.R. O’Connor reported in The Atlantic that the cells would be grown into horn shapes in the laboratory, then sold for use in traditional Chinese medicine, which is driving the current black market for rhinoceros horns. The horns would be biologically identical to real rhino horns, but wouldn’t involve injury or death.

Despite efforts to educate people about the plight of rhinos and the fact that rhino horn has no real medicinal value, demand for the horns remains high. It takes time to change minds – and time is something that rhinos don’t have. With only five remaining northern white rhinos, that subspecies is almost extinct. Conservationists estimate that southern white rhinos could be extinct in 23 years if current poaching trends continue.

Ceratotech, the company that filed a patent for the horn-growing process, hopes that flooding the market with biosynthetic horns will reduce the demand for horns from slaughtered rhinos. But there’s the risk that they could make it easier for poachers to sneak unethically sourced horns onto the market without getting caught.

Shamwari Conservation Experience: A More In-Depth Safari

shamwariSouth Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve is a one-of-a-kind safari destination. Located in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari has spent the past several decades restoring overused agricultural land to its wild past. Today more than 5,000 head of game range freely, including members of the Big 5. Shamwari’s 100 square miles of wilderness covers 5 different biological ecosystems and is malaria-free.

Shamwari offers wonderful game viewing and luxury lodges for the regular safari-goer. But for those who would like a more in-depth adventure, the Shamwari Conservation Experience may be the answer. The Conservation Experience is a volunteer program in which adults of all ages spend 2 or more weeks working on the reserve in areas such as:

  • monitoring elephants, rhinos, and predators
  • restoring the landscape from previous agricultural use
  • controlling invasive plant species
  • helping with management of the breeding center
  • volunteering at the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary for rescued lions and leopards
  • research projects
  • animal rehabilitation
  • community projects in local towns and villages, such as painting classrooms or maintaining community  vegetable gardens

The Shamwari Conservation Experience is a once in a lifetime chance to get behind the scenes and involved with conservation efforts in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. You don’t need a specific educational background to participate, although a special program is available for veterinary students. Contact Ujuzi to learn about incorporating Shamwari into your next safari.

Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Volunteers survey Shamwari’s plant life.
Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Volunteers clear away brush and invasive plants on Shamwari Reserve.
Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Mending a fence.

Watch this video to see Shamwari Conservation Experience volunteers humanely tag, sedate, and relocate a male antelope as part of the reserve’s wildlife restoration program:

Interested in visiting Shamwari? Please contact Ujuzi.

“The Finest Trip of My Life”

Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”

Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”

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In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.

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While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.

Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.

Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”

Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.

Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”

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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!

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African countries fight rhino poaching

Rhino, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

A white rhino grazes on the shore of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Photo by Ryan Harvey.

Ujuzi will expand its tour offerings in the second half of 2014 to include South Africa, a country rich in unique wildlife and home to almost half of the continent’s rhinos. Unfortunately, the abundance of wildlife has attracted the attention of international crime syndicates, who profit from selling rare animal parts on the black market. I recently ran across this sobering article about an increase in rhino poaching in the country.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold in Southeast Asia. Rhino horn is a traditional medicine in that part of the world, where it’s thought to cure a variety of ailments despite modern science showing its ineffectiveness. Rhino horns have also been used to make cups, dagger handles and other ornamental items, but this use is less common now.

If poaching continues increasing at current rates, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs ministry estimates that the country’s wild rhino population could disappear by 2025. Other countries are also affected by poaching. In Kenya, the rhino population has dropped from tens of thousands to about 1,200.

However, many African countries are making a concerted effort to clamp down on poaching with improved training for wildlife rangers and by using drones and other new technologies to monitor national parks. On the demand side, Vietnamese government officials and wildlife organizations have committed to tougher enforcement of anti-poaching laws and educating consumers about the uselessness of rhino horns as medicine. China has recently increased penalties on those who import or sell poached rhino horns.