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  • Jamie Thom

Growing Black Rhino Populations

After two decades, the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) is celebrating significant achievements in growing the critically endangered black rhino population. Since its establishment in 2003, the project has successfully relocated more than 230 rhinos, creating 15 new black rhino populations in South Africa and Malawi. The initiative, a collaboration between the World Wildlife Fund SA, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in South Africa, and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency [South Africa], focuses on expanding the rhino's range to address the decline in suitable habitats.

The BRREP's strategy involves partnering with private landowners to create more space for rhinos by relocating them from reserves with existing populations to new areas. This approach has added around 300,000 hectares to the black rhino range. Wildlife vet Dr. Jacques Flamand, who has led BRREP since its inception, noted that the black rhino population was dwindling due to a lack of suitable space.

Over the years, the project has gained recognition for its innovative techniques, including "flying rhinos," where black rhinos are airlifted out of inaccessible areas using strops attached to their feet. This method minimizes the time rhinos spend in a boma, reducing the risk of stress or sickness.

The BRREP's success is underscored by the more than 200 rhino calves born on project sites, contributing to the overall growth of black rhino numbers. Black rhino populations have more than doubled in the past two decades, from fewer than 2,500 to an estimated 6,200 animals in 2022.

Despite these achievements, the project faces ongoing challenges, particularly the escalating threat of poaching. With approximately 10% of poached rhinos being black rhinos, maintaining a steady growth rate becomes crucial. The BRREP remains committed to closely monitoring rhino populations, employing various tools such as satellite/GPS collars, camera traps, aerial surveillance, and specially trained dogs. The project also holds the largest repository of black rhino DNA profiles globally, aiding in population management and decision-making.

As rhino poaching continues to pose a significant threat, the BRREP emphasizes the importance of protecting and expanding suitable habitats while exploring opportunities for further growth in neighboring countries.



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