Is Kruger Still A Stronghold For Africa’s Rhino Population?

Anyone who has been following the plight of Africa’s rhino will have noticed that population statistics are hard to come by. This week, years of silence have been broken regarding the rhino population in Kruger National Park (KNP). Unfortunately, the news is pretty grim.

Rhino Poaching Statistics At A Glance:

  • 67% decline in Kruger’s white rhino population since 2011
  • 35% decline in Kruger’s black rhino population since 2013
  • Approximately 3,529 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos remain in Kruger National Park
  • The official stats for rhino poaching in South Africa say 594 individuals were poached in 2019, a decrease from 769 the previous year
Photo by Casey Allen on Pexels.com

“SANParks contributes 34.4% and 34.9% respectively of South Africa’s black and white rhino populations. Primarily due to poaching in Kruger National Park, one black rhino sub-species, and white rhinos, have declined over the past decade.”

SANParks Annual Report 2019/2020

Kruger’s White Rhinos

The white rhino population in the Kruger has seen a steep decline of around 3,529 individuals, which represents a massive 67% of the white rhino population within the park. In 2011 there were 10,621 white rhinos in KNP.

Kruger’s Black Rhinos

In 2013, there were 415 black rhinos in Kruger. This figure has now dropped by 35% leaving only 268 black rhinos in the park in 2019.

Photo by Huibre Venter on Pexels.com

In recent years, there have been poaching statistics and arrest/ incursion-related statistics released in South Africa. These indicated poaching was on the decrease while arrests were increasing. When viewed on their own, these statistics seem positive, however it is likely the poaching has been decreasing because of the huge population decrease. After all, less rhinos to poach means less poaching.

Of course, there have been incredible efforts from the anti-poaching, veterinary and conservation teams on the ground to reduce poaching in the area and this too would have an impact on the poaching figures.

It is difficult to have up-to-date information on populations and situations such as this but these latest sobering statistics have given us plenty to think about.

In an attempt to minimise the impact of rhino poaching on the population Kruger National Park began dehorning selected rhinos in the Greater Kruger area in 2019. Dehorning is a common tool that is used by wildlife owners and reserves across South Africa to try to deter poachers.

Photo by Nicole Kruger on Pexels.com

How Can We Help Save Rhinos?

These statistics are shocking and they give us a glimpse into what the reality of the situation is. They indicate an urgency and the necessity to step up before it is too late.

  1. Don’t buy wildlife products – it may sound obvious but rhinos are being killed because there is a demand for rhino horn. Never buy rhino horn or products made from rhino horn. When the demand stops, the killing will too.
  2. Raise awareness – tell your friends what is happening. It’s surprising how many people remain unaware of the plight of rhinos. Although often aware of the killing of rhinos for their horns, users of rhino horn tend to see themselves as disconnected from the rhino poaching crisis. Education and awareness are key.
  3. Support charities working to save rhino – volunteer, donate, host a fundraising event, like/ comment/ share their social media posts to help them reach more people. Joining a reputable organisation means you become part of the solution.

Sources:

Sad News From Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park have announced 6 of their Park Rangers were killed in an attack on the morning of Sunday 10th January 2021. Another ranger was seriously wounded and has been taken to hospital in Goma for treatment.

The rangers were ambushed near Kabuendo, near the border of the park. It is believed the rangers were taken by surprise and had no opportunity to defend themselves. The attack has been blamed on local Mai-Mai groups, one of many militia groups operating in the region.

More than 200 rangers have lost their lives in the conservation war within Virunga National Park. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and is home to over half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. It is also the largest tropical rainforest reserve in Africa and has an incredible vast and varied landscape of volcanoes, mountains, forests, savannahs and lakes.

The Rangers who lost their lives in the attack:

BURHANI ABDOU Surumwe, aged 30 years

KAMATE MUNDUNAENDA Alexis, aged 25 years

MANENO KATAGHALIRWA Reagan, aged 27 years

KIBANJA BASHEKERE Eric, aged 28 years

PALUKU BUDOYI Innocent, aged 28 years

NZABONIMPA NTAMAKIRIRO Prince, aged 27 years

These young rangers tragically lost their lives protecting the national park. Rest in power.

For anyone who wants to offer help, Virunga has a range of funds including a Fallen Rangers Fund for Widows. This aims to financially support widows and families while also providing them with opportunities for personal development and work-based training.

You can read the full statement from Viruna on the 10/01/2021 attack here: https://virunga.org/news/recent-attack-2021/

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The Latest News in Rhino Conservation and the Rhino Horn Trade

TRAFFIC Report “Insights from the incarcerated: An Assessment of the illicit supply chain in wildlife in South Africa

This is an interesting report that gives insights into the operation of wildlife crime within South Africa. The study involved interviewing offenders convicted for their involvement in wildlife crimes including the poaching/ trade of rhino horn, abalone and cycads. The insights of the study suggest that targeting, arresting and prosecuting individuals further along the supply chain would be more impactful than simply arresting and prosecuting those at the lower levels of the chains i.e. poachers.

Discussions with offenders included the modus operandi, as seen here when talking to rhino poachers:
“The majority of offenders claimed to have entered into the park or reserve at night (between 6pm and 9pm). Offenders stated that they encountered and shot a rhino early in the morning close to sunrise (between 4am and 6am) when visibility improved. Offenders claimed not to spend more than one day in the park or reserve due to fears of detection by law enforcement. Offenders claimed that if they did not encounter a rhino by the next day, they would exit the park and try again on a different day. Offenders were very aware of the increased enforcement efforts, particularly in Kruger National Park.”

Photo by Elliot Connor on Pexels.com

It is not surprising that the main motivators for those involved in the illegal wildlife trade were financial concerns. The report noted that almost all of the offenders were from marginalized communities and had limited economic opportunities.

“Some first-time poachers who claimed to be responsible for cutting off the horn or carrying food and water claimed to be promised between ZAR28,000 and ZAR60,000 (~USD1,637–3,508) for their efforts, while other poachers and drivers who shared equally in the profits with their accomplices earned between ZAR62,000 and ZAR124,000 (~USD3,625–7,251). The value paid to the intermediary or “poaching boss” differed between ZAR81,000 and ZAR135,000 (~USD4,736–7,894) per kilogramme.”

Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be more than USD72 billion annually. It is a trade that involves a complex network of individuals that move commodities from the source to the consumer.

Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

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What Drives The Demand For Rhino Horn?

The consumer demand for rhino horn is primarily from Asia, with Vietnam and China being the top markets.

A 2019 article discussed the results of a study looking at the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam.

The study involved interviewing people who use rhino horn in Vietnam. The study found that people used rhino horn for a variety of reasons but mostly for medicine (most prevalently treating hangovers) and as a status symbol. Other uses included using rhino horn as a way of honouring terminally ill relatives.

The study also found that wild rhino horn was preferred over farmed rhino horn and the consumers were not affected by concerns about rhino populations. The users were also not concerned about the legal repercussions of buying rhino horn, this is due to the users believing police and law enforcement would not be interested in rhino horn use (on a personal or small scale).

The issue is that, in a lot of places across the globe, the potential profits of trading in rhino horn far outweigh the risks involved.

What does it mean for rhino horn to be a status symbol?

Essentially this means people share rhino horn within their social and professional networks as a way of demonstrating their wealth. This can be seen to strengthen relationships as it can let others know that the person with rhino horn has money and (potentially) influence. Gifting of rhino horns is also a way of getting favours from people in positions of power.

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What To Do If You Find An Animal In Need

HELP! I Found an Animal In Need – What Do I Do?

Always call your local wildlife rescue centre if you have found a wild animal that is in need.

If you’re not sure if the animal needs help or not, the first thing to do is look for signs of injury and visually evaluate the animal from a safe distance. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there any blood visible?
  • Is the animal showing any signs of weakness?
  • Does the animal have laboured breathing?
  • Is the animal seizing?
  • Is the animal conscious? (Is the animal conscious but immobile? The animal could simply be resting)
  • Has the animal been caught or trapped?
  • Can the animal move? If the animal is not able to move away from human contact it may be very injured or weak. If it moves away slowly, watch out for signs of injury or broken bones.

Most people call wildlife rehabilitation centres about baby animals that they think have been abandoned. A baby animal that is alone is often not abandoned or orphaned (although this is sometimes the case).

This is why it is important to first monitor the animal and look for signs of distress or injury. If the parents do not return or you see signs of distress or injury then intervention may be necessary.

A baby animal that is alone is often not abandoned or orphaned.

Although you are trying to help, intervening with a baby animal without first being sure the parents are not around is more damaging as its best chance of survival is with its family.  

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Working in Wildlife Rehabilitation – THE BASICS

If you are interested in working within wildlife rehabilitation, this section will help you learn some of the basics.

First of all, it is important to understand that the aim of wildlife rehabilitation is to return wild animals to the wild. Some people may find this difficult or emotional but if you remember this from the very beginning you won’t get attached to the animals you care for in the way you do with a pet, instead you will be so happy and excited when it comes to release day as you know the animal is going back where it should be and, thanks to you and your team, has another chance at life in the wild.

Top tips when working in wildlife rehabilitation:

  • Stay calm. This work can be challenging as well as physically and emotionally demanding.
  • Remember that each animal has unique needs that are determined by the species, situation, personality and energy levels.
  • Be prepared for long hours and be flexible as there tends to be little routine and you are often “on call” 24/7 (this can be to deal with emergencies, help the intensive care cases or go out on rescues)
  • Education is an important part of wildlife rehabilitation. Be prepared to engage with the public and help people understand how to help animals in need and the significance of keeping wild animals in the wild.
Baby zebra “helping” to weigh and prepare milk powder for the day ahead

“I want to work within wildlife rehabilitation, what do I need to know?”

Working with wildlife in this way requires:

  • Medical knowledge (understand the anatomy and physiology of the species you work with, know how to carry out health checks and develop or follow treatment plans)
  • Understand environmental needs (ensure the environment meets the needs of the animal and always monitor the environment for potential issues)
  • Understand the nutrition and diet requirements for the species you work with
  • Understand safe handling and care practices
  • Understand health and safety (it is extremely important to maintain a clean environment to avoid the spread of disease. Make sure you keep up to date with protocols and ensure you can clearly communicate health and safety issues to the community).

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Storms Rescue Anniversary

This week is Storms rescue-versary. You may remember a couple of months ago I shared that I had the pleasure of seeing rehabilitated critically endangered black rhino Storm back in the wild. Today I thought I’d share the story of rescuing Storm. It was a crazy night that I certainly wont forget.

Everyone at the orphanage was settled for the night of elephant and rhino care and after many dry months, we had a powerful storm gracing us with heavy rain. As the evening went on as usual, we received a call about a black rhino calf in need of rescue. Soon after receiving the call, Angie and I packed the car and rhino ambulance with the emergency kits and set off. The rain was torrential and as a result, we could hardly see the front of the car, let alone the road ahead. The dirt roads were already beginning to wash away due to the rains so we knew it was going to be a long drive through the dark, stormy night. Even when we finally reached the tarred road, the drive was still slow as the continued rain meant the visibility remained terrible. It took us 4 hours of driving to reach the destination and after meeting with the wildlife vet we loaded the 3 month old black rhino calf into the rescue trailer. 

I sat in the back of the rhino ambulance and watched over the tiny black rhino calf as Ang drove us back to the orphanage. The rain had begun to slow and at around 3am – after 6 hours of driving , we reached a flooded bridge that meant we couldn’t continue on. It had already been a very long night so we decided we would just wait at the side of the dirt road until sunrise but fortunately we didn’t have to wait that long as we received assistance from the reserve. So after some time of waiting for the almost unrecognisable bridge to be crossable we managed to continue on… It was a huge relief to finally make it back to the orphanage at 4:30 in the morning with the tiny black rhino. After parking up and making sure Storm was fine, Ang and I got a couple hours of sleep before getting back to work in the morning, caring for Ellie and the rest of the rhino orphans. 

Storms rehabilitation was tough, he was struggling with internal parasites & aspiration pneumonia and needed intensive, around the clock care but when he finally turned a corner and his appetite grew, he began to gain weight and started playing we knew he’d pull through. Storm became good friends with Nandi, another black rhino orphan of the same age and the pair moved through their rehabilitation process together.

Despite the tough start to life, Storms rehabilitation was a success and he now lives wild & free.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Being Creative in Conservation

It can be scary to start something new. To put yourself out there and try something you have never tried before. It can be daunting to create and share your passions with the world. It’s easy to back out, to change your mind and to live small but DON’T. Please, don’t back out. Believe in your vision, in your passion, in your work.

More and more, I am finding my voice – as you have probably noticed with these regular blog posts. This is something I want to continue and I am now collaborating with Morgan Pettersson to create a conservation podcast called Seeding Change. Within this podcast we will be talking about environmental conservation, the natural world and the highs and lows of our own personal adventures within this challenging but highly rewarding industry.

Although I’m nervous, I’m also so excited because this is a topic I am very passionate about and it’s something I wish we all talked about more.

Our first two episodes are available on the links below and our third episode will be available on Friday.

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/seeding-change-the-conservation-podcast/id1488114117?uo=4

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6wMHL7orkqwOpPZLRNUDxb

Buzzsprout: http://www.buzzsprout.com/718806

On Friday’s episode we will be talking all about TREES and their importance in this world. With Morgan’s reforestation experience this is going to be a very interesting conversation! Forests and their amazing role on Earth are often vastly undervalued so we are looking forward to sharing episode 3 with you all. Particularly, with all the news regarding this years forest fires.

This is a journey and I hope you join us for it.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Snake Encounters in South Africa

Over the years of living in South African game reserves, I have had a lot of snake encounters with various species including Mozambique Spitting Cobras, Black Mambas, Puff Adders, Rhombic Egg Eaters, Spotted Bush Snakes and African Rock Python. 

I wanted to share a different side to my adventures today so here’s 3 of my favourite snake encounter stories: 

1) Mozambique Spitting Cobra.

This story always comes to mind because the situation resolved itself with surprising ease. I was outside with rhino orphan Ithuba and fellow carers Aly and Axel when we noticed something moving along the wall towards us and towards the rhino night room. As the sun was beginning to set we needed to keep a close eye on the snake to make sure it did not go into any of the care or preparation rooms. We sent a photo of the snake to a ranger and received immediate identification that the snake was a Mozambique Spitting Cobra (very dangerous).

As we weren’t in a position to remove the snake safely ourselves and we lived in isolation in the middle of a reserve getting someone to help us would’ve been a time-consuming process, we decided instead to simply block the snakes path, keep our distance and hope the Cobra would turn around and go back into the bush. It was a simple plan but our options were pretty limited and we were hopeful. We kept our distance while trying to keep a constant eye on the snake. The other thing we needed to do was keep ever-curious white rhino calf Ithuba away from the snake too. This was challenging as Ithuba knew there was something going on and wanted to take a closer look himself. Fortunately, after a bit of a tussle we managed to convince him to play with his favourite tyre bowl at the other side of the enclosure while we waited for the cobra to decide where it wanted to go.

Thankfully, upon meeting our blockade, the snake changed direction and began to pick its way back towards the bush. It was in no rush but gradually we watched it slither across the length of the outside enclosure, out between the slats of the enclosure poles and towards the bush. Satisfied the Mozambique Spitting Cobra was not in or near the night room we finished the evenings games with Ithuba, got sorted for nightshift and locked up. Of course, I was still VERY aware of the possibilities of snakes, spiders and scorpions as I slept on the floor in the preparation room or under the heat lamp with the rhino orphans. 

(I don’t have a picture of the Mozambique Spitting Cobra so here’s a Rhombic Egg Eater instead)

2) Puff Adder relocation.

This was a pretty fun one. It was a really quiet day and while I was sitting in the office I heard one of our staff members screaming my name (bordering on hysterical). Not sure what the problem was I rushed outside to check everything was okay. I was met with two of our team screeching with terror and pointing towards the grass next to the car. Laying there, completely still, was a Puff Adder (very dangerous). There’s a lot of fear of snakes within the communities so I wasn’t at all surprised by the shouting, snakes are often killed on sight so I was very relieved they had kept their distance and shouted me instead of trying to kill the snake.

As Puff Adders are very dangerous and we had several people and animals living on the property I said we would carefully move it away from the orphanage. I closed our dog inside, grabbed the snake tongs and enlisted the help of Vikki (because there was no way I was doing this on my own and Viks had worked previously as a ranger). The main issue was that we couldn’t find a suitable container to use to put the snake in so we agreed on using the large, plastic bin that we used in the kitchen as the ‘transport crate’. Getting the Puff Adder into the bin was easy using the snake tongs and after we showed our team (who were now a lot less hysterical) the Puff Adder and gave them a bit of information about the species we carefully put the bin onto the back of the truck ready to drive far from the orphanage to release the snake.

Now, we had a decision to make. Although, it was more of a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ situation that Viks lost. That meant it was Viks job to sit at the back of the truck holding the bin upright and ensuring the lid of the bin stayed in place as I slowly drove us across the reserve. Despite driving slowly, the road was incredibly bumpy so I watched the rear view mirror tentatively as I picked my way across the reserve. We reached a spot that was far enough away without any issues and chose an area that seemed suitable to release the snake. The car slowly rolled to a stop and I jumped out to help Viks with the bin. We removed the lid and gently laid the bin down, letting the the Puff Adder go. We sat on the back of the truck as we watched the snake for a few minutes then we made our way back to the orphanage. Happy everyone was safe and the snake could continue on, unharmed.

3) African Rock Python sighting.

The third is a wildlife sighting that blew my mind. Angie and I were on a road trip and we made our way to Kruger National Park, after some careful thought we decided to stick to the more northern areas of the park. We’d been told we wouldn’t see as much wildlife in those areas but we liked the fact that there’s very few other people around and the idea that we’d have to work extra hard to spot wildlife. We stuck to our original idea and entered Kruger through one of the gates in the North region and see how we got on.

I’m not kidding, we’d been in the park for 10 minutes and OUR FIRST SIGHTING was an African Rock Python eating a duiker. WHAT. It was insane, we couldn’t believe it!!! We sat there absolutely fascinated, no other cars around, in fact we only saw one or two other cars in the whole day. This was the first time I’d seen a snake in the bush like this, the Rock Python was huge! The whole scenario was just unreal. As you can imagine, that started our day in a magnificent way and we went on to have all sorts of wonderful sightings including elephants, leopards and even a honey badger!

I hope you enjoyed reading these snake stories!

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

For information on snake species within Africa head over to: https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/

Reconnect With Nature

Spending time in wildlife reserves is so good for the soul. It allows us the opportunity to reconnect with nature, to catch a glimpse into a wild world we have become so far removed from. It’s an opportunity to quiet your mind. When you’re in nature nothing is guaranteed and nothing is expected. It’s energizing, from the moment you enter a reserve there’s excitement in the air… You keep a look out for any signs of wildlife, looking for fresh tracks along the dusty paths and listening for the calls of wild animals.

There is so much to see. So many directions to venture in. You are surrounded by the beauty of the wilderness and I’m not sure there is anything in life that beats that feeling. Nature is home and sometimes we have to go back to it to realise how vital it is.

I’ve spent a lot of time living in reserves and sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and enjoy the amazing wildlife that share this place we call home. Today I wanted to post some of my favourite photos from past adventures. There’s so much beauty on this planet, there is so much still to save. I know that sometimes news stories are very doom and gloom so todays post is just a little bit of beauty to remind you that there is still so much to fight for.

Spending time in nature is important, a lot of us are disconnected, not only from nature but also from the impact we have on nature in our day to day lives. Everything we do has an impact on the world around us and the natural world needs us to make changes. We need to step up and make better decisions, we need to be more conscious of our choices and know that we can have a positive impact on the planet by making small changes. We live in a time when we can still turn this around so please, tread lightly on this Earth and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us.

If you get the opportunity to visit a nature reserve or national park… Please do! You won’t regret it.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards