Today is World Rhino Day. And while our hearts are heavy for the tragedy unfolding in Nairobi, we trust that the Kenyan spirit will rise. There has been talk about the US and other countries issuing travel advisories against travel to the area. While we don’t yet know how all of this is going to unfold, what we can say without a doubt is that the Kenyan spirit is strong and will recover. But today – as we keep those who have lost lives and are still fighting for their lives in our thoughts and prayers, we’re sharing some some good news out of Kenya that uplifts the spirit and gives hope for the future.
One of the primary reasons people travel to Kenya is quite simply the wildlife. The Black Rhino in particular is one of the big five to spot on safari. But in recent years, the rhino population decreases have been staggering and shocking. The problem is complex, but can be simply narrowed down to two facts — unprecedented numbers of poaching and the dwindling amount of available land for the rhino to claim territory as a result of farming and human population increases. Kenya’s population of 40 million people continues to rise.
Almost two rhinos a day are butchered to compensate for the growing interest in rhino horn (garnering upwards of $65,000 per kilo in foreign markets), thought by some cultures to have medicinal benefits to cure cancer among other uses. Though, in truth, the rhino horn is made up mostly of keratin, the very same ingredient found in human nails. The consequences are great, not just for the wildlife, but if we take it down to very practical economics, for tourism as well.
The Borana Conservancy teamed up with the Save the Rhino Project, and just two weeks ago, 21 black rhinos arrived on the property, where they are currently finding their territories and making a new home on protected land where they have a great chance, not only of surviving but also thriving. To make this possible, Borana opened up their land for the daunting challenge of providing habitat for the rhino, also working with the neighboring Lewa Conservancy.
The collaborative agreement has been in the works for more than a decade, and will undoubtedly be once of the greatest conservation achievements for the greater Laikipia region, just north of of Mount Kenya, pulling down fences that subdivide one of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems.
The 21 rhinos were relatively easy to spot two weeks ago, with their numbers still fresh on their skin. Future monitoring will be done using the most advanced GPS technology.
The effort and the operating costs of protecting and monitoring the rhino are tremendous – $480,000 a year, above and beyond the rest of the conservancy’s overhead. As conservationist Sam Taylor, who is heading the operation for the Borana Conservancy said, “It wasn’t necessarily the best business decision, but it’s the right decision.”
Borana has been gearing up for this remarkable effort since 2009, improving infrastructure, manpower, mobile vet units, and equipment that will ensure these 21 new rhino will have every means possible to be protected and persevere. The property itself was once a cattle ranch, until the Dyer family, longtime conservationists, who were alarmed by the dramatic decreases in wildlife habitat and decided to shift their focus in 1992 to wildlife preservation. Today the property is also home to a luxury lodge and still functions as a ranch, offering safari on horseback among other adventures. (We’ll be posting more on this soon, but today is all about the rhino!)
In the 1970s, the number of Black Rhino in Africa was around 70,000. Today that number is in the ballpark of 3,000.
All photos © Lindsay Taub