There has been an alarming upsurge in armed poaching of endangered rhinos primarily in the “Lowveld Conservancies” in South Eastern Zimbabwe over the past three years, according to WWF, the international conservation organization.
Since 2000, 22 black rhinos have been shot in the Lowveld Conservancies in addition to 45-50 black rhinos that have been shot by poachers in other conservancies.
A conservancy is formed by a group who pool their resources to conserve wildlife, adopt good land use practices and have a stake, ownership and responsibility for the land and resources.
“The declining economy in has fuelled the loss of jobs, particularly on commercial farms and created an environment that’s conducive to poaching,” believes Raoul du Toit, Project Executant, Lowveld Rhinoceros Project, WWF - Southern Africa Regional Programme Office.
As well as targeted poaching of individual animals, there have been more than 66 cases of rhino caught in snares and sometimes fatally injured in the Lowveld conservancies since 2000.
This is a marked increased since the initiation of Zimbabwe’s “fast-track” land resettlement programme Available records show that no black rhinos were poached in that area between 1993-2000.
Since 2000, people have been allowed settle into conservancies and enforcement of anti-poaching controls has been relaxed. According to WWF, a secondary knock on effect has been an increase of poaching of other wildlife.
As a way to combat the poaching surge, WWF, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, with funding provided by other partners and agencies, is now stepping up its drive to protect the country’s black rhinos.
“Through the Lowveld Rhino Project we intensified monitoring of rhinos using skilled trackers and radiotelemetry. We moved rhinos from unsafe areas, dehorned some of the most at risk rhinos and collaborated in setting up rapid reaction units, community awareness programmes and gave technical support to develop options for wildlife-based land reform” says Raoul du Toit.
Despite the effects of poaching, this holistic approach has enabled the Lowveld rhino populations to achieve some of the highest growth rates ever recorded, up to 10 per cent per year. Two of the conservancy established populations have surpassed the 100 mark.
Currently, Lowveld boasts of 375 black rhinos – about 10 per cent of the world’s wild population.
Due to the creation of the conservancies, a number of property owners have now converted to wildlife. Through the support of the landowners, black rhino conservation has contributed immensely to maintaining and improving biodiversity in these areas as well as helping conserve other species such buffalo, elephant, wildebeest and leopard.
"We’re consolidating an approach that we know works but if we’re not proactive and cautious, poaching could flare up to such an extent that it could reverse the rhino population gains that have been achieved in Zimbabwe since the mid 1990s," warns Raoul du Toit.
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