Mkomazi Newsletter 1999: Rhino Sanctuary
Early in the year Tony left for Kenya and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where one of the most successful rhino sanctuaries in Kenya is managed. Discussion there took place with Ian Craig and Fuzz Dyer on the possibility of sending groups of 2 or 3 guards in rota from Mkomazi Rhino to Lewa for training. Meanwhile the JCB and Caterpillar started work clearing the line for the new internal rhino sanctuary fence line, which will create a separate introduction area so the new rhino can be introduced without interference from the established population. This grants the newcomers the freedom to adapt, yet offers them some form of contact with the founder animals. Once they have settled, the internal fence can be used again for another internal introduction area or for extending the sanctuary. Wilson, who headed the team that built the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary fence line, came down to measure the new fence-line and new isolation compound and we started work on the arduous preparation of documents for importing the equipment. Friends of Serengeti Switzerland and Save the Rhino International generously donated the funds for this internal fence.
Dr Piet Morkel from National Parks Board South Africa (NPBSA) came up to replace the transmitters of the two male rhino (Jonah Oklahoma and James Small). It was decided not to replace the transmitters on the females, as they could be pregnant, although we are still kept guessing. We took advantage of a film crew from the National History Unit of South Africa who were filming here with their state-of-the-art helicopter, and whose pilot, Piet Otto, is a longstanding game capture colleague of Dr Morkel. It was a smooth operation, albeit tense and dramatic, and the transmitters were successfully replaced. The thick vegetation and heavy rain made for hard work in pinning down, darting and following up the rhino, but we were fortunate to have quality expertise on hand on the ground. The sanctuary staff is now able to get an accurate location with the transmitters.
Jonah Oklahoma, Charlie and Rose spend much of the time together, and James remains alone. On some nights we have seen three rhino and even a leopard drinking at the water pans, and on one occasion we saw Rose kneeling at one of the water pans whilst the Bedford lorry carrying the water tanker filled up the pan with water.
Dr Rob Brett from the African Rhino Specialist Group assessed the sanctuary for fundraising applications to US Fish and Wildlife and other organisations. The Trusts were delighted when US F&W agreed to fund the training of the sanctuary security guards, as well as a selection of rangers from the Wildlife Division headquarters at Zange. Once all the security force have received training at Lewa it is hoped that they will travel to Tsavo National Park to have a look at the rhino sanctuary and re-release programme there.
US Fish & Wildlife also agreed to fund the purchase of binoculars and night optics which will improve the capability of sanctuary staff to monitor and identify rhinos at night at fixed points (e.g. waterholes).
Tony traveled to South Africa with the Chairman of our Tanzanian Trust, Brigadier General Hashim Mbita to meet with NPBSA for negotiations on the next translocation of rhino. The Chief Executive of NPBSA, Mavuso Msimang and Dr Hall Martin welcomed them both and it was concluded that two females (one with a male calf) plus one adult male will be translocated in mid 2000. The price is still high, but a small reduction was negotiated. The usual politics are involved, as many of the East African black rhino have been sold to a private dealer / rancher, but thats something that we are well used to.
The second committee meeting took place of the Tanzanian Rhino Conservation Steering Group. Tony was in the USA at the time so we were only able to submit a brief report. Mr. Matthew Maige, the Government Rhino Coordinator, chaired the meeting and presented the report on our behalf. Mr. Maige has also visited Mkomazi a few times over the past year and all the strategies, plans and procedures are plotted out in discussion with him.
The security force is working conscientiously on maintaining the disciplines and systems of the sanctuary, as well as undertaking the daily sightings. The fence maintenance gangs are operating well, and walk the 30-km fence line daily in relays checking the fence and signs of activity on the ground. Happily there have still not been any breakouts or break-ins and, alongside the security force and fence maintenance gangs, a sanctuary vehicle is continually on the move attending to duties. The security of the rhinos at Mkomazi has been maintained since their reintroduction in November 1997, through application of all standard criteria assessed in approval of rhino conservation areas in southern Africa.
A new water storage tank is being constructed to work as a back up to the dam. The dam has held water for 18 months, since it was completed, and is holding up well. Tony felt that a further emergency water source was necessary, water being the perennial problem in Mkomazi. This new storage tank has the capacity for 75,000 gallons (341,250 litres). Filtration and treatment systems are also being installed. Tanga Cement, through Basil Hersov, agreed to donate 500 bags of cement for this project, which was a fantastic step forward and for which we are very grateful.
The 40-year-old Bedford lorry/water tanker moves slowly around the sanctuary on a regular basis, filling up the new water pans and tanks for both rhino and staff. The JCB has been working on reclearing and extending the firebreaks internally and externally, in preparation for this dry season. The grader has been widening the airstrip for the anticipated arrival of the next translocation of rhino. The grader also works on the sanctuary fence line, maintaining and clearing when necessary.
Tony held discussion with Dr Richard Leakey (then re-instated Director of the Kenya Wildlife Services) about the possibility of receiving two females from Kenya in the future. Further discussion will take place on this when Tony has pursued these ideas with the rhino coordinator, Mr. Maige, and they have both traveled together to visit the new director of wildlife of KWS, Nehemiah Rottich, a friend and an ex founder Trustee of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust Kenya.
Brigadier Mbita and Elisaria held interviews for selection of new sanctuary personnel and a couple of changes took place with retirements of the old sanctuary guards and recruitment of two Wildlife Division rangers.
The first external foot patrol set off in October. This comprised of two men from the sanctuary, who patrolled for 4 days on a peripheral circuit around the sanctuary. These patrols form part of the extension of the sanctuary security. They were backed up by the aircraft with vehicle resupplies and, with the Wildlife Division, were able to deter illegal activity and arrest perpetrators. These patrols will be sent out on a regular basis.
As noted earlier, we do know that the rhinos have been mating, and are hopeful that there will be a birth soon, but it is extremely difficult to tell if the females are pregnant, as it is a 16-month pregnancy.
There have been many donations to and support of the rhino project on so many different fronts, but I will list a few by way of example and leave it for each Trust office to provide the complete lists if asked. The Tanzanian Wildlife Fund donated new uniports for the staff housing in the sanctuary. Disney and Busch Gardens remain committed to funding the sanctuary through the International Rhino Foundation.
Larry Freels donated a four-wheel bike and a Kawasaki Mule multipurpose sanctuary vehicle. TUSK donated considerable funds, some of which could be used for upgrading existing equipment and also for the purchase of new uniforms, beds and tents.
The board of directors of the USA Trust, alongside their own generous financial pledges to the project, planned heavy fundraising schedules for the rhino sanctuary and Tony undertook lengthy trips to the USA for these purposes which are reported later. But it is never easy, and the incoming funds are the result of many years of hard work, commitment and loyalty from a great many people. More significantly, the funds are often ring-fenced, which enables us to get projects up and running, yet we still have to find support for the day to day running of the whole project.
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