Zimbabwe Lowveld Rhino Program
The Zimbabwe Lowveld Rhino Program is protecting and growing Zimbabwe’s largest population of black rhinos through monitoring and anti-poaching efforts, combined with treating, rehabilitating and translocating rhinos as needed.
Zimbabwe is home to the world’s fourth largest black rhino population after South Africa, Namibia and Kenya. Organized gangs of poachers slaughtered nearly one-quarter of the country’s rhinos between 2007 and 2009, as once again southern African nations faced an upsurge in poaching activity. The renewed poaching activity has been driven primarily by demand from Asian markets, particularly Vietnam and China.
Formerly degraded land that was converted from cattle ranges to wildlife management areas, Zimbabwe’s Lowveld region is now home to nearly 90% of the country’s rhino population. These large land tracts operate as wildlife-based businesses that help safeguard a variety of threatened species. In early 2008, poaching in Zimbabwe reached critical levels and rhino numbers in the Lowveld began to decline for the first time since populations were established there in the early 1990s.
The Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), the International Rhino Foundation’s partner organization in Zimbabwe, implements a comprehensive conservation program that support anti-poaching efforts, tracks and monitors rhinos, treats injured rhinos, rehabilitates and returns injured young rhinos to the wild, translocates rhinos from high-risk areas to safer locations, and works with local communities to build support for rhino conservation.
In response to the poaching crisis in 2008 and the decline in the Lowveld rhino population, our field teams moved more than 50 black rhinos out of particularly vulnerable areas in 2008-2009. The translocation operations dramatically reduced the threat to these animals by placing them in more secure areas. These translocations, combined with improved security, have decreased poaching enough that births now outnumber losses and the population is again slowly growing.
The Lowveld Rhino Program concentrates its activities in two private conservancies where the majority of the rhino population lives and where there is still significant room for expansion – Save Valley and Bubye Valley Conservancies. The first black rhinos were introduced into Bubye Valley in 2002 – by 2012, the 100th black rhino had been born. Over the last 3 to 4 years, this population has been growing annually between 5 and 10%, which bodes well for the species’ future in Zimbabwe. Based on the extent of available black rhino habitat in this region, the Lowveld Rhino Trust team is hopeful that another 100 calves could be born in the next 5 years.
Our annual operations in the conservancies include:
- Providing logistical support and training for anti-poaching patrols (including collecting evidence and assisting with legal cases when necessary);
- Tracking and monitoring rhinos on a continual basis to ensure their safety;
- Performing annual management operations, such as ear-notching rhinos for easy identification;
- Continuing intensive monitoring of these populations;
- Treating rhinos with injuries suffered due to poaching or natural causes;
- Working with conservancy partners to rescue, rehabilitate and return injured or orphaned young rhinos to the wild;
- Protecting rhinos from poachers by translocating animals from high-risk areas to safer locations; and
- Working with local communities to build support for rhino conservation through education and employment.
In 2014, the Lowveld Rhino Trust drug-darted 52 rhinos for management operations in both conservancies and continued to track individual rhinos on a monthly basis. Emergency operations included treating a white rhino in Save Valley with a horn injury, treating a black rhino in Save Valley with bullet wounds, capturing and translocating a one-week-old calf from Save Valley to the hand-rearing facility in Bubye Valley after its mother was poached, and treating a black rhino cow from Bubye Valley to remove an embedded leg snare.
During 2014, 16 black and three white rhinos were born in the Save Valley Conservancy, and in Bubye Valley Conservancy, 25 black and three white rhinos were born. Births greatly outweighed poaching deaths. Only five black rhinos in Save Valley and three blacks and one white in Bubye Valley Conservancy were lost to poachers — a significant improvement over past years.