Conservation efforts gain tempo after years of poaching

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All six rhino species remaining on the planet, three from Asia—Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)—and three from Africa—the northern and southern white or squarelipped (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhinos (Diceros bicornis)—are threatened with extinction from poaching and habitat degradation.

Conservation measures in Africa have placed a high priority on conserving large, open ecosystems and species populations. Kenya and Tanzania, for instance, have set aside 8 per cent and 28 per cent of their land for wildlife conservation, respectively.

In Tanzania, before the 1960s, the black rhino population ranged from Mkomazi Game Reserve (now upgraded to a national park) in the north-east, to Lake Victoria in the north-west and from Selous Game Reserve in the south to Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania.

The black rhino population in Serengeti National Park alone was about 700 individuals in 1974.

In areas with low conservation status, especially in the sparsely inhabited hunting concession areas, serious illegal hunting was evident.

However, in the 1980s the rhino population declined drastically due to high poaching pressure and by the 1990s only three isolated small populations remained: Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve.

Loss of all these animals in less than a decade without strong intervention from the national and international communities is a regrettable event in Tanzania’s conservation history.

The world’s economic crisis of the 1980s made most African governments unable to institute the conservation strategies that had been laid down in their strategic plans, which caused anti-poaching patrol days to drop by 60 per cent compared with those performed before the 1970s, and immensely reduced capacity to counter-poaching.

In the Serengeti Ecosystem, two major factors contributed to the high poaching activities that affected the rhino population in the 1980s: (i) increasing anthropogenic activities close to the boundaries of the protected areas (ii) increasing human population resulted in the blockage of wildlife corridors.

Lack of connectivity among protected areas is probably suppressing the genetic diversity of the endangered species.

Currently the Tanzanian government is firmly committed to the conservation of the few remaining black rhinos in the country (and other wildlife species in general) with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism through its Wildlife Division, which plays a coordinating role in the rhino conservation projects in the country. (Agencies)